Monday, October 24, 2005

A.J. Being A.J.

I have to admit, I'm pulling for the White Sox to win the Series.

I've started each round thinking I'll just enjoy the games as a neutral observer, and before I know it, I find myself cheering for Chicago and my boy A.J. I've been pulling for him and the Sox in this postseason ever since I saw him hit the home run in the first game against Boston; and with all the controversy he left in his wake throughout the ALCS, it's been a fun reminder of why I used to enjoy him so much when he played for the Twins. Thanks to all the shenanigans and controversy, he's become quite the media celebrity all of a sudden.

Bill Simmons last week wrote:

Yet another question: Is A.J. Pierzynski the most annoying professional athlete in recent memory? He's like the Rick Barry of this generation -- everything he does seems annoying for some reason, even his interviews. You can see why the Giants and Twins couldn't stand him. I don't even think he's a bad guy, he's just one of Those Guys. If you played at a $25 table in Vegas with him, he seems like the guy who would say stuff like "Wow, you're way up right now, huh?" and scream "Whammy!" every time he was dealt a blackjack. And he wouldn't even know he was being annoying, so his friends would think of convoluted ways to ditch him, stuff like, "Hey, A.J., I'm gonna go walk around, get some air, I'll be back in 10 minutes" ... and then they would scurry to another casino. That's A.J., right?

Actually, A.J. is the guy who annoys everyone in the casino, except for those in his party. The people hanging with him are having a blast, shouting "Whammy!" right along with him; and those looks of horror from across the table will only egg them on. The people who are down with A.J. love him like a brother; and, as far as they're concerned, everyone else can go piss up a rope. Although there was a whisper campaign directed against him after the Twins traded him to San Francisco, which held that A.J. was so abrasive he'd even turned umpires against the team, it's important to note that he did have close friends in the clubhouse, and I never met a Twins fan who didn't like him. I think it's even safe to say that he was a fan favorite in Minnesota.

Now, the bad boy ditched by two teams, allegedly because of his poison personality, is getting all kinds of credit for giving the AL Champion Chicago White Sox their newfound winning edge.

Patrick Reusse wrote a column on that theme this weekend, with a couple money quotes from the always loquacious Doug Mientkiewicz, who claims the Twins lost their fighting edge when they traded his buddy A.J. Since Dougie isn't playing baseball this week, and can't go fishing with Hurricane Wilma swirling around the Caribbean, I guess he had nothing better to do than to play at his other favorite hobby, stirring the pot:

"The Twins became too nice when they traded A.J.," Doug Mientkiewicz said. "We had an edge to the way we played with A.J. You could see it in the Twins this season. There was no edge to that team."

"I know Joe Mauer was waiting, but I thought at the time the Twins were crazy to trade A.J.," Mientkiewicz said. "Joe probably has more talent than A.J. I'm sure he does. But until Joe gets his guys to the playoffs . . . I'll take A.J."

As A.J. might have said if he were on the line: BOO-YAA!! The match lit, controversy spreads like wildfire.

I'll say upfront, I know that Dougie Mint has a self-serving agenda. Every time the Twins let go of a key veteran, Doug was openly skeptical about plans to count on youngsters to fill in. He didn't believe Morneau was capable of immediately replacing him, and he predicted the Twins would regret giving up so many of the key players on the 2002-03 division championship teams. I'm sure it strokes his ego to see his old team stumble without him and some of his pals.

Yet, I believe the Twins did lose a lot of personality and some edge when they let go of A.J., Dougie, and Everyday Eddie. They did. The 2005 Twins were a bland group, a cast in search of real characters, who seemed to be going through the motions, waiting for someone else to step up and lead the charge. In a lineup where nearly everyone performed below expectations, it's possible that some spark of inspiration, some rallying force, some abrasive jerk who takes the field with nothing in mind but to have a little fun and kick a lotta ass is just what the crew needed most, sometimes this season.

At the same time, I'll say that nobody seemed to miss A.J. so much last year, when the team won another Central title, by 9 games. The 2004 Twins won 92 games without A.J., without Everyday Eddie, and without Dougie for the second half of the season. Now A.J. is the crucial missing ingredient?

It also should be said that A.J., Dougie, and Eddie were more than just colorful personalities. A.J. was an All-Star in 2002, and probably should have been again in 2003. His last year with the Twins, he was worth 22 Win Shares. Dougie in 2003 was worth 20 Win Shares; and while Shannon Stewart and Johan Santana received nearly all the credit for that team's late-season charge, Dougie hit .305/.438/.433 in the second half of that season. Of course, Eddie was an All-Star closer in 2002 and 2003, too.

Those guys had solid, tangible value on the field; they were good players then. And while the club effectively replaced A.J. and Eddie on the field with Mauer and Nathan, the Twins didn't get anything close to 20 Win Shares out of Morneau this season, and they didn't get anything like that kind of value to replace Koskie at 3rd base, either. It didn't help that Stewart had the worst season of his career, Jones was a subpar Rightfield bat, Hunter contributed to the lineup for just a couple months, and the middle infield continued to be a sinkhole, too.

Joe Mauer was the only guy in the regular lineup who pulled his weight this season, except when LeCroy was gobbling cookies served up by lefty pitching. The 2005 Twins dropped to 3rd place because everybody else in the batting order was inconsistent at best, or more often just flat awful. It's not fair to imply or say outright that Joe Mauer is the one who failed to lead this team to another division title. As Batgirl said, "If the Twins had 25 Mauers, no one would complain and we wouldn't need attitude. Though maybe a better team barber." Just so.

Meanwhile, the White Sox are now up 2-0 in the World Series because they've had strong starting pitching all season, which has ratcheted up a notch in October, and the team has a decent enough offense, while every break seems to go their way. How do you make a team go 35-19 in one-run games? Who could predict that Joe Crede would have such a monster postseason? What rational analysis can account for all the breaks in the ALCS or wins like last night's, when Jermaine Dye is awarded 1st base on a foul ball, which leads to Paul Konerko hitting a 2-out grand slam, and finally a little waterbug who didn't hit a homer the whole regular season wins the game with a walk-off shot in the Right-Center power alley?

Is that the A.J. Effect, or is it a superior collection of talent apparently blessed this year, dare we say, by all the hallmarks of Lady Fortune and Destiny?


At 10/24/2005 8:59 PM, Blogger SBG said...

There you go again, being the voice of reason.

At 10/24/2005 9:05 PM, Blogger SBG said...

Oh, and one more thing. I loved A.J. Loved him. Just like you said. I'd have been egging him on at the blackjack table. And even though he's wearing the enemy's clothes, I still love him. The great thing about AJ was that he was a good player here, and his departure brought us a tremendous bounty.

But still, God, Joe Mauer. He can be the best everyday player on this team since Kirby Puckett. Or maybe better.

At 10/26/2005 6:54 PM, Blogger Third Base Line said...

Maybe I'm taking a grudge too far, but I firmly believe that no team which deliberately throws a World Series should EVER win one AGAIN. EVER.

And besides, they're the White Sox. I hate those guys. A lot. And so I'm still praying for the most monumental choke of all time. :D

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