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A.J. Pierzynski was no scapegoat

A.J. Pierzynski was unproductive and unloved in Boston. But nobody thought he was the only problem.

Jim Rogash

"The 2013 Red Sox were a team built first and foremost around camaraderie and good chemistry in the clubhouse. By signing A.J. Pierzynski, the Red Sox threw all that away for 2014, leading to the disappointing cellar-dweller train wreck we have today."

This is an argument that nobody has ever made. Well, alright, I won't say nobody. I can't vouch for every "first time caller, long time listener" in Boston. But I can assure you that, for all that A.J. Pierzynski was not well loved in Boston, this is an argument responded to far more often than it's ever actually put forward.

A.J. Pierzynski certainly came to Boston with a ton of luggage. With a reputation for being...abrasive, to put it nicely, Pierzynski was known as much for his confrontations with his own pitching staff as he was for his contributions at the plate. With the Red Sox coming off a season of good feelings, there were few who truly wanted to introduce Pierzynski into the equation. Maybe inviting an unlikable element into the mix would be worthwhile if there was the potential for significant in-game contributions, but Pierzynski is widely known as a poor defensive catcher, and only of of his last ten years suggested the potential for even a league-average bat.

None of that, though, is enough to drop a 51-40 team to 40-51. And nobody would claim otherwise. This has not been a team marked by clubhouse strife in the same way the 2012 team was. While we already have our first "A.J. Pierzynski was a problem" story (and big surprise that!), it's a story about A.J. Pierzynski looking at his phone too much, not some other player using said phone to stage a clubhouse rebellion against the manager.

When Red Sox fans complained about A.J. Pierzynski, we didn't complain because we thought he was ruining the Red Sox. We do not chalk up Xander Bogaerts' month-long struggle, Shane Victorino's constant injury setbacks, Dustin Pedroia's wrist issues, Clay Buchholz' implosion, the failure of Felix Doubront as a starting pitcher and the death of the Grady Sizemore experiment to his presence. We recognize there are many issues with this team, and that trading out A.J. Pierzynski for one of the myriad disappointments of the offseason catching market (no, nobody saw Kurt Suzuki coming) would make this trade deadline seller into a legitimate contender.

No, what we complained about was his impact on our enjoyment of the game. In 2013, when Shane Victorino made a big play in right, Boston living rooms and bars alike could join wholeheartedly in the celebration. The same just cannot be said for A.J. Pierzynski. It wasn't so bad as if the Red Sox had signed, say, Luke Scott to play left, but when Pierzynski came up with a big hit, the celebration was always...begrudging. Maybe that's our problem for caring too much about second-hand reports of our starting catcher's personality (however accurate they may have been), but it's the simple truth that for many fans A.J. Pierzynski was difficult if not impossible to root for. That doesn't necessarily change the math on the scoreboard, but it changes how much we enjoy the games.

So no, the departure of A.J. Pierzynski is not likely to have a significant impact on how competitive the 2014 Red Sox are from day to day. I'd argue they're a better team now since Christian Vazquez' glove is far superior and his bat can't be all that much worse than Pierzynski's. But nobody really expects them to go on a run now that he's gone, and we don't need to find a new explanation for why they're bad in the first place. A.J. Pierzynski was never the scapegoat. He was never considered to be the problem. He was just one of many, but importantly he was the one that Red Sox fans had no desire to see wearing the uniform to begin with. That makes all the difference in the world.