Sports media: A.J. Pierzynski still calls a good game — but now it’s on TV
The former White Sox catcher will join Cubs voice Len Kasper for the Cubs-Sox game Saturday on Fox.
Former White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski looked at his Fox broadcast schedule and couldn’t believe it. His reaction was akin to not getting a strike call after deftly framing a pitch.
He was assigned to be the analyst for the Cubs-Sox game Saturday at Guaranteed Rate Field. As if having the longtime North Side antagonist on the call wasn’t enough, Fox paired him with Cubs TV voice Len Kasper.
‘‘I was like, ‘Really? You guys are gonna put me on that game?’ ” Pierzynski said. ‘‘My boss [Fox Sports senior vice president of production Judy Boyd] was just laughing. She was like, ‘How could we not put you on that game?’
‘‘And then they put me with Len, which makes it even better. So I can be a homer for the Sox, and he can be a homer for the Cubs.’’
That last line was a joke, but Pierzynski knows viewers will have preconceived notions about the broadcast, depending on their allegiance.
‘‘Look, everyone knows where I stand with the Cubs and the Sox,’’ Pierzynski said. ‘‘I’ll do my best. I’ll keep it down the middle. It’s hard, though, because people know.’’
Sure, they know Pierzynski was at ground zero for the most explosive play in Cubs-Sox history, his collision with Cubs catcher Michael Barrett, which prompted Barrett’s punch in the face. They know he delighted in taunting the North Siders and their fans as a player. And they know he’s a Sox ambassador.
They might not know — or they might choose to overlook — that Pierzynski is a rising star among baseball TV analysts. He’s in his third year working full time for Fox, analyzing games from the booth on Saturdays and from the studio on occasion for FS1’s whiparound show.
But his experience dates to 2000, when he began appearing on Fox Sports Net’s ‘‘The Best Damn Sports Show Period’’ as a member of the Twins. He was a pregame and postgame analyst for Fox’s postseason coverage from 2011 to 2013, and he worked in the booth for the first time in the 2015 playoffs.
Without any broadcasting training — ‘‘Honestly, none,’’ he said — Pierzynski relies on the knowledge gained from a major-league career that began in 1998. As a former catcher, he can speak with authority on just about everything that happens on the field. He’s critical, funny and unafraid to first-guess.
‘‘There’s an ‘it’ factor in this business, and he has it,’’ said Kasper, who teamed with Pierzynski for the first time on the Cubs-Cardinals game June 1 on Fox. ‘‘He’s not afraid, that’s No. 1, to say what’s on his mind. He’s very observant, he does his homework and he’s just really smart. I think that came through in the way he played. I’ve often said he’s one of the smartest players I’ve ever seen.’’
Having retired after the 2016 season and playing for seven teams (his longest tenure was with the Sox from 2005 to 2012), Pierzynski can speak from personal knowledge about many of the players he’s analyzing. That won’t last forever, but for now it provides his broadcasts with a unique element. In the Cubs-Cardinals game, for example, Jose Quintana started for the Cubs. Pierzynski caught Quintana 21 times in 2012.
He won’t have Quintana on the mound Saturday, but Pierzynski won’t be lacking for subject matter. If you drew up a Bingo card with topics of conversation for the broadcast, the Barrett-Pierzynski fight would have to be the free space.
‘‘I’m sure they’ll show the Michael Barrett fight every half-inning,’’ Pierzynski quipped.
‘‘I’m sure we’ll have a lot of highlights of Cubs-Sox moments,’’ Kasper said. ‘‘The A.J.-Michael Barrett thing I’m sure will come up.’’
Whatever they discuss, Kasper and Pierzynski will keep it impartial and professional. They have to for a Fox broadcast that will air in 41 percent of the country, ahead of Phillies-Mets and Angels-Astros. And though they’ve partnered only once, it won’t sound like it.
‘‘It did feel natural, and that’s a credit to him,’’ Kasper said of their first game together. ‘‘I do this every single day; he doesn’t. He just jumped right in, and it felt natural.’’
‘‘Well, when you sit through a four-hour rain delay, you get to know each other real well,’’ Pierzynski said. ‘‘He was great. Every guy I’ve worked with has been really great. Sometimes I feel sorry for them because I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing and these guys are all so good.’’
Pierzynski’s humor is self-deprecating, and his self-scouting is inaccurate. He knows what to say and when to say it, and he works with top-notch partners who can pull information out of him.
But Pierzynski’s contract is up after the season. He’ll sit down with his family then to discuss what’s best for them. His schedule has allowed him to attend most of his kids’ activities, and live video feeds via social media have helped him stay connected when he’s away.
Plus, ‘‘It’s a pretty darn good job to have, to be able to talk about baseball for a living,’’ he said.
In Kasper’s eyes, Pierzynski successfully has changed positions, from a former player to a broadcaster.
‘‘There’s a huge difference,’’ he said. ‘‘The former player is someone who just kind of watches and comments and imparts knowledge of what he did in certain situations. But a broadcaster talks to people, gets information. It’s not all about what they did when they played; it’s about what’s happening right now.
‘‘You’re no longer a player, you’re a broadcaster, and your job is to be prepared. He’s really attacked it that way, and I give him a lot of credit.’’