MLB.com Columnist

Terence Moore

Braves have a manager behind the plate

Braves have a manager behind the plate

ATLANTA -- Before we get to everything else, let's just ask Braves catcher A.J. Pierzynski the obvious since he has the credentials and the temperament for what I'm about to type.

Do you want to manage someday?

"Well, I mean, if somebody comes to you and says, 'Do you want to be a big league manager?' It's kind of hard to say no to that, especially when you've played for a long time, and you want to give back," said Pierzynski, 39, who is with his seventh team in his 19th Major League season.

Whether or not this is Pierzynski's last will depend on a conversation with his family during the winter.

Pierzynski's RBI single

Either way, Pierzynski will lead one of baseball's 30 teams someday, and that team will be the better for it. We're talking about a former player who would manage like a bunch of other former players who were hired to handle a Major League roster despite no previous experience.

"Having played for a guy like Mike Matheny in St. Louis, he never managed before, and he does it the right way," Pierzynski said. "Brad Ausmus [of the Tigers], just playing against him and watching him, he does it the right way. Having played for Robin [Ventura of the White Sox], he's in that same category, and they all join a bunch of guys who didn't have a lot of experience and have been successful, and it's encouraging to me that it can happen."

Which brings us to this: The Braves shipped starting pitcher Bud Norris and his 31-year-old arm to the Dodgers Thursday for a couple of prospects who have yet to take the mound in Triple-A, let alone the Major Leagues. Simply put, the youth keeps coming to the home clubhouse at Turner Field, and the veterans keep going, unless their names are Pierzynski.

That's splendid news for the Braves. They need this old-timer (well, by their standards) around a bit longer.

"I know he's helped a lot of young pitchers like myself, because he always wants you to be good, and he has this way of making you think more," said Braves ace Julio Teheran, 25, the senior citizen on the youngest pitching rotation in the Major Leagues. "Whenever he's done playing, I think he would be good at managing, and you see it [with the Braves]. He's got everything you need for that job. He likes to help people. He also likes to win."

So much for Pierzynski and his love affair with victories, because the Braves have the National League's worst record. Then again, they've been in a rebuilding mold for much of the past two seasons. They've spent that stretch acquiring as much future talent as possible in exchange for the established likes of Craig Kimbrel, Andrelton Simmons, Jason Heyward, Shelby Miller, the Upton brothers (Justin and Melvin Jr.) and several others.

Pierzynski hasn't gone anywhere since he arrived in town on a one-year contract before the 2015 season as the Braves' backup catcher and as the noted owner of a blunt tongue. In addition to his role as clubhouse sage, he shocked reality last year with a renaissance at the plate. He hit .300 in 113 games, and he bolted into the starting job by midseason when Christian Bethancourt was sent back to the Minor Leagues for seasoning.

Pierzynski's RBI double

The Braves signed Pierzynski again for this season, and even though his offensive numbers have slipped along with his fielding at times, he remains a huge resource for his younger peers.

"Yeah, the pitchers come up to me all the time, but even some of the younger position players like Mallex Smith, not to single him out, but they'll come by and say, 'Hey, this happened. What are your thoughts on this situation?'" Pierzynski said. 

And Pierzynski's got a slew of answers from a career that has featured two trips to the All-Star Game, a Silver Slugger Award in 2012 and a lifetime batting average of .281 despite his recent offensive woes. He also was a catalyst behind the 2005 White Sox grabbing their first World Series championship since 1917.

White Sox are World Champions

Even those among the Braves youth who aren't familiar with Pierzynski's resume discover in a hurry that they're encountering a seasoned veteran with considerable baseball wisdom.

"You try to help them out by saying, 'Well, this is how you should be thinking. You need to throw the ball here, or why you should bunt in that situation,'" Pierzynski said. "There are all of these things that come up, and you just try to talk to them. There's no right or wrong way. It's just trying to help them understand what's the way to handle every situation that kind of arises over a long season."

The way Pierzynski sees it, he's returning a nearly two-decade-old favor. Back then, when he was a rookie with the Twins, he was blessed often by experiencing their version of his current self.

"It was Tom Prince, the other catcher after I arrived in Minnesota, who provided that leadership role for me, and [pitchers] LaTroy Hawkins and Eddie Guardado were always there to help me along the way," Pierzynski said. "Actually, those veterans were there to help all of us. When I first came to the Twins, we had Torii [Hunter], [Doug] Mientkiewicz, Jacque Jones and David Ortiz, and we were just all young and dumb and thought we knew everything, but we didn't really know what we were doing. Those guys kind of took us aside one by one and showed us the ropes, which was good."

Which is why Pierzynski adopted their leadership role as he went from the Twins to the Giants, and then to the White Sox, the Rangers, the Red Sox and the Cardinals before he joined the Braves.

Somewhere during those journeys, Pierzynski evolved from mostly seeking advice regarding all things baseball to giving it.

"As you get older, it's just a natural progression, and when you're a catcher, dealing with a lot of young pitchers, which has been the case the last couple of years, that becomes more of a natural progression," Pierzynski said. "There never was a moment when I went, 'Oh, man. Guys are coming to me.' When I was in Chicago [from 2005 to 2012], I had a bunch of young guys asking questions. But then you go to Texas [2013], they already had veterans, and the same with Boston [2014], but in Atlanta, this was totally different."

This was Pierzynski having to spend the past two seasons showing the following regarding all of that youth for the Braves: patience, the ability to teach and a willingness to make himself available.

You know, like a manager.

Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.