The Rangers have lost arguably their three most popular players this offseason. And now they’ve added the most hated man in baseball.
Now that’s a personality change.
The Rangers have agreed to terms with free agent catcher A.J. Pierzynski, one of the most irritating characters in the game. Fans will have to get used to the idea of a cheering for one of the game’s longtime villains.
They will do this while getting over the loss of Michael Young, Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli, whose names have been the backs of thousands of jerseys in the stands at Rangers Ballpark.
Young was one of the bedrock names of the franchise, a pro’s pro who had been around since the bad old days.
Hamilton was The Natural, as endeared for his tape-measure shots as his inspiring, faith-based comeback from the depths of substance abuse.
Napoli was the grizzled catcher with the clutch bat, whose name became a staple among Ballpark chants: “Na-po-li! Na-po-li! Na-po-li!”
Baseball fans around the American League also have a chant for Pierzynski: “Boo!”
Like Napoli, Pierzynski is also a hard-nosed backstop. Except Pierzynski spices up his play with a mouth that gets under his opponents’ skin.
In various player polls, Pierzynski has been voted baseball’s most hated player, baseball’s meanest player and the player they would most like to see get beaned.
With his brash playing style, Pierzynski isn’t out to win any popularity contests. But he has the market cornered on unpopularity.
For all his irritability, Pierzynski is coming off a career year offensively. He is extremely durable for a catcher, stays in great shape and is known as a smart player. He always handles pitchers well, even though he has a bad habit of running across the mound after being thrown out at first.
It will be interesting to see how the Rangers’ clubhouse handles Pierzynski, who apparently has no filter between his brain and his mouth.
This will be a dramatic change for a clubhouse dominated by Young for many years. If the Rangers add free agent slugger Nick Swisher, who also seems to rub opposing fans the wrong way, things could really get spicy.
That might not be such a bad thing for the Rangers, who struggled at the finish in 2012 after back-to-back World Series appearances. This offseason, the leadership mantle is being passed to younger players like Elvis Andrus.
There will still be stable, veteran voices in the clubhouse like closer Joe Nathan. And the example set by Young as a mentor to younger players will not disappear overnight.
Young was a favorite of manager Ron Washington, who could rely on the veteran to get his message across when it needed to come from a player’s perspective.
Pierzynski might not be so chummy with Washington after criticizing the skipper for not selecting him to the All-Star Game last summer.
However, Pierzyznski had a valid argument, numbers-wise. It’s his competitive nature that earns the admiration of teammates, and Pierzynski was just being true to his nature.
After all, as Pierzynski said himself at the time, the All-Star Game is just a popularity contest. Pierzynski is never going to win one of those.