The first day of the winter meetings was “shockingly dead” for everybody except Derek Jeter, which is funny because he wasn’t in Orlando. Giancarlo Stanton smeared the Marlins during his introductory press conference with the yankees, including a note to fans you don’t often hear:
“I would say hang in there,” Stanton said. “They’re hurting. They’re going to go through some more tough years. I would advise them not to give up. Maybe watch from afar.”
And now the media is turning on him because, instead of appearing in person to defend what could be the offseason’s defining move, he was spotted at the Patriots-Dolphins game in Miami on Monday night.
So that’s fun. And without a whole lot of news from the contenders, the White Sox were able to have some fun of their own.
Heard directly from the man himself – AJ Pierzynski is joining the White Sox as a team ambassador! pic.twitter.com/RrbLPTvWQb— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) December 11, 2017
He was called The Ambassador
There wasn’t much diplomatic there
Pierzynski’s stretching that title as much as he stretched the rulebook, but the White Sox are the only team he’d work for, in various senses of the phrase. The title -- which was also given to Jose Contreras — doesn’t guarantee duties or obligations, but it does secure Pierzynski somewhere in the White Sox’ orbit, which finally answers the reflexive pleas to “bring back A.J.”
One idea for Pierzynski is in the works: calling a game alongside Hawk Harrelson at some point in 2018.
"I told Scott [Reifert] and Bob [Grim] that I'll move heaven and Earth to make sure I'm able to get at least one game in with Hawk, since it is his last year and we need to make this happen," Pierzynski said. "This year, they're only doing Sunday games, so it will make it a lot easier to be able to come out and just ride on Hawk's coattails.”
This seems like a nice thing for both men to cross off their lists, and Hawk’s longstanding relationship with (and championing of) Pierzynski could result in a few more obscure anecdotes, such as this one Harrelson dropped at the winter meetings:
Pierzynski's neighbor in Orlando during the winter and his friend of more than 30 years, called him “the most hated high school player in Orlando,” and recalled a conversation with Nolan Ryan from when Pierzynski left for the Rangers after the 2012 season.
“'Hawk, tell me, is he as big of an asshole as they said he is?'” Harrelson remembers Ryan asking him. “I said 'He's bigger, Nolan, he's just like you!'”
Harrelson also made the short drive to the Disney complex to mingle, giving reporters a tour of his oeuvre -- raving about the rebuild with superlatives, bemoaning analytics, trashing Wrigley Field, and adding to his rulebook:
Classic Hawk: "You know my first two rules, now I’ve added a third. You have to catch the ball. Next thing is don’t mess with Joe West and the third thing is have a good bullpen."— Scott Merkin (@scottmerkin) December 11, 2017
Given that Hawk’s schedule has been reduced to home Sundays for 2018, there isn’t much of a point in railing against his limited outlook or repertoire.
But there is one point he hasn’t often made, which is the amount of freedom the White Sox have given him with broadcasting games:
Harrelson doesn’t test the White Sox’ tolerance as much as he could, because he exercises his right to remain silent when things aren’t going well, and tends to save his extended rants for outside factors hampering the home team (bad calls, scheduling, league decisions). The resulting transcripts might not present the most comprehensive of accounts, but it’s better than what happens in places like Cincinnati, where an entrenched broadcaster uses his pulpit to launch attacks on the team’s star player year after year.
The fear in moving from Harrelson to Jason Benetti is the loss of this freedom, not necessarily because the Sox will tell him what he can’t say, but more because a trained young professional like Benetti has a more effective filter. Fans will get a more accurate and updated assessment of the game, but without certain flourishes that distinguish a White Sox broadcast from the other 29 teams.
That’s why I’ve always been intrigued by Pierzynski as a potential partner. One of Benetti’s strengths is poking the analyst, and Pierzynski has the local gravitas that could allow him to criticize freely if the situation or player warrants it.
My chief reservation regarding Pierzynski is that the chip on his shoulder could result in the same stagnation. He was never the most receptive to criticism, and his stubbornness served him very well over a 19-year, 2,000-hit career, but it could backfire if he’s rejecting updated information while judging/knocking the performances of others for an impressionable audience. And good luck trying to fire him.
So I’m intrigued by the idea of Pierzynski dipping his toe into these waters, even if a one-off pairing with Harrelson won’t tell us much about how a normal broadcast could sound. As long as Pierzynski works on Fox’s national broadcasts, any trial might only be limited to special occasions.