'Punch A.J.' campaign under way

'Punch A.J.' campaign under way

CHICAGO -- Ozzie Guillen doesn't claim to be an expert in matters relating to public relations, although his three-year managerial tenure certainly has thrust the White Sox prominently into the national spotlight on a weekly basis.

But Guillen had to smile Monday and credit the White Sox media relations staff for coming up with the perfect campaign to push catcher A.J. Pierzynski's candidacy in the Monster.com Final Vote, with votes being cast on MLB.com for the final All-Star.

The "Punch A.J." theme made perfect sense to Guillen, especially when considering the player involved.

"I thought it was awesome, and I know a lot of people want to do that," said Guillen with a wry smile of punching A.J., both online for the Final Vote and a few times offline at the game. "In the meanwhile, I think it's a great thing to have. I think it's great entertainment.

"Hopefully, the fans in Chicago and the fans in baseball vote for him. He deserves to be there. He deserves to have that spot. Hopefully, he wins."

By Pierzynski's own admission, all five players on the American League Final Vote ballot are more than deserving of All-Star consideration. Rookie Francisco Liriano's entrance into the starting rotation has almost single-handedly turned the Minnesota Twins into a playoff contender, while Justin Verlander has been a steady force as a rookie in the Tigers starting rotation.

Baltimore catcher Ramon Hernandez and Cleveland designated hitter Travis Hafner have provided offensive punch to their respective lineups. Nonetheless, Pierzynski is hoping the campaign ultimately works in his favor, with the final results being announced Thursday night.

T-Shirts with "Punch A.J" and a check mark on the front were unveiled prior to Monday's contest at U.S. Cellular Field with Baltimore, including one being worn by White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, with Mark Buehrle also speaking to the crowd on Pierzynski's behalf before the first pitch was thrown out. Both strategies were used last year in Scott Podsednik's successful Final Vote campaign, but the thought of Pierzynski winning a nationwide popularity contest is a little tougher challenge to tackle.

That particular assessment comes from Pierzynski's own teammates.

"No comment," said Podsednik when asked what he thought of Pierzynski's chances to win the popular vote, followed by a broad smile. "Seriously, it's fun. We want to try to get as many guys as we can representing the White Sox. We are going to do our part, trying to make a pitch for him."

"As well-liked as he is around the United States and all these cities, I think people are going to be voting extra hard against him just to not get him in there," added Buehrle, who pointed to the jeers aimed at Pierzynski at almost each and every visiting ballpark "But you never know, something exciting could happen at the All-Star Game if he goes. Whenever he's in there, something always happens."

If Pierzynski were elected to his second All-Star appearance, he would join Buehrle, Jose Contreras, Bobby Jenks, Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko and Jim Thome as the seventh member of the White Sox to suit up at PNC Park next week. But Guillen admitted Monday that there originally was a seventh White Sox player on the roster, even before Pierzynski's inclusion on the Final Vote.

Joe Crede was selected but eventually had to be bumped from the roster because of a change in the fan balloting, according to Guillen. Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano was leading at second base up until the last vote, but he is unable to go to the All-Star Game because of an injury.

Cano winning the fan vote would have led to Guillen being able to pick a replacement, which was going to be Crede, and move Texas' Michael Young from shortstop to second. But Boston's Mark Loretta won the fan vote at second, meaning the player vote picked the replacement second baseman in Seattle's Jose Lopez. Young stayed at shortstop and Crede might be staying at home.

Guillen reiterated Monday that if any infield position player can't participate, including either of the two catchers, Crede would get the call. Guillen's choice for an outfield replacement was a bit more surprising.

"If something happens in the outfield, it'll be Magglio Ordonez and let people know I'm the greatest guy in the world," said Guillen with a smile, referring to their feud from 2005, which has since been settled.

There was no announcement by Guillen as to the American League starting pitcher, but Guillen basically ruled out Contreras and Buehrle. Contreras pitches Sunday and would only be able to give Guillen one inning on Tuesday, while Guillen didn't feel Buehrle deserved to start this season, after starting in 2005.

This final call might take a few days for Guillen to make, with Minnesota's Johan Santana and Toronto's Roy Halladay both starting Sunday. Guillen is looking for a starter who can go at least two innings, but with four closers on the roster, the White Sox manager joked he could start Bobby Jenks for one inning.

A decision on the starting pitcher could come at about the same time as the Final Vote outcome. As the saying goes in Chicago politics, Pierzynski hopes White Sox fans vote early and often.

Pierzynski also doesn't want baseball fans from the North Side of town to take the slogan too literally, especially after taking the punch from Cubs catcher Michael Barrett during a May 20 contest and following Pierzynski's game-winning home run at Wrigley Field Saturday.

"I know. That's the problem," Pierzynski said. "Especially the problem is on the other side of the city, where there are some people who wanted to punch me after this weekend. But, it was catchy and people remember it and it's something that will be fun.

"It kind of fits the tone of this year. It's good, and the marketing people did a great job. It'll be interesting to see what happens."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.