One of MLB’s fleet-footed, sultan of swipe is putting his Ferrari gear shift in park and calling it a career.
Outfielder Juan Pierre announced his retirement Friday after a 14-year career in the majors that included hella’ turf twisting and a World Series championship with the 2003 Florida Marlins.
Pierre, who was named after Dominican Hall of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal, was never the best player on his team, but he had tools that made good ball teams better. Pierre was an asset to any club he was on and captivate fans, generate runs and had a tremendous impact on the game without having home run power.
Pierre began his professional career with the Portland Rockies of the Northwest League, after being selected by Colorado in the 13th round of the 1998 MLB Draft. He immediately became a fan favorite by winning batting and stolen base titles in his first minor league season. Pierre made his major league debut on August 7, 2000, as a pinch runner for the Rockies against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He also played for the Cubs, White Sox, Dodgers and Phillies. He batted .247 in 113 games with the Marlins in his final season in 2013.
Pierre wasn’t a titan of a player, but his greatest gift—his legs—earned him an immortal place in hip-hop lore as Jay-Z used his name in one of the classic intertwining executions of a sports/drugs/music simile with his opening spitfire on Beyonce’s "De Ja Vu" joint in 2006.
“I used to run base like Juan Pierre/Now I run the bass high hat and a snare.”
If heads weren't familiar with the scrawny, outfielder with the oversized batting helmet and wonder wheels, they sure were after Team Carter (to use a baseball term) put Pierre’s name in the books.
Pierre, 37, ranks 18th in career stolen bases with 614. He was a slap hitter with a formidable .295 career batting average. The crafty Pierre utilized his speed, finishing with a notable 2,217 hits.
In a game where players go down with twisted ankles, sore body parts and muscle tears regularly, Pierre’s entire steez was built upon sacrificing his body on the base paths. While he doesn’t have conventional HOF credentials, 600 steals is nothing to sneeze at. However, just nine of the Top 20 speedsters on MLB’s career stolen base list are Hall of Famers and six of those lucky cats can only be found in black and white photos, grainy film reels or painted headshots.
Baseball’s lack of respect for the stolen base is a manifestation of the smothering combination of the PED era and the philosophical shift in strategy based on the increased application of analytics. Together these forces managed to minimize the importance of speed and stolen bases in exchange for more high percentage ways of scoring, thus eliminating the daredevil skill of baseball’s most exciting play.
Swiping bases is as much of a science as it is a God-given talent. It requires great discipline and observation and analyzing the pitcher. You have to be in tune with everything that is going on around you and the focus of the defense is always on you if you are a notorious threat.
Emphasis on the stolen base has begun to resurface in today’s “cleaner” game, as young blazers such as Billy Hamilton, Dee Gordon and Jose Altuve add another lethal dimension to any lineup they bless.
With only 18 career homeruns and about 800 hits shy of the magical 3,000 hit plateau, Pierre will go down in baseball lore as a very solid player with several exceptional skills; his speed, durability and ability to make contact.
At just 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, Pierre had an impressive knack for staying healthy. The Alabama native played in every game from 2003 to 2007. In fact, Pierre was the only player in baseball to play every inning of all his team's games in 2004, and was only the third player to do it since 1971.
MLB players whose careers span decades usually possess excellent health and a peace of mind. Pierre credits a portion of his productivity and uninhibitedness as a player to becoming a born again Christian. In retirement, Pierre plans to continue to advance the movement he started called "Beast Mode For Christ", where the goal is to “go hard for the Lord" in every aspects of life.
As a batsman, his stick was light as cotton (on the power tip), but his bunt game was mean and he could Punch-n-Judy you to death. He did snag a few hits titles, batted over .300 six times, scored at least 100 runs three times and stole over 60 bases three times. He never hit more than three dingers in a season, but he also never struck out more than 52 times.
He never walked much, so he gave coaches fits as a leadoff batter, but he was a game-wrecker when managers allowed him to what he does best and that garnered him two Top-20 MVP finishes.
Pierre’s unheralded career will not go unrewarded. Established by the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM) in 2014, the Hall of Game annually honors former MLB players who competed with the same passion, determination, flair and skill exhibited by the heroes of the Negro Leagues.
This year’s class includes stolen-base king Rickey Henderson, Hall of Fame pitcher and Black Ace Ferguson “Fergie” Jenkins, three-time All-Star Luis Tiant Jr. and defensive “wizard” Ozzie Smith. The four MLB greats will be inducted in ceremonies at the Gem Theater in Kansas City, Mo. on Saturday, April 25.
The exciting 2015 inductees follow last year’s mythical inaugural class that featured Hall of Famers Lou Brock, Joe Morgan, Dave Winfield and the late Roberto Clemente.
There probably won’t be any Hall of Fame plaque in Pierre’s future, but I can totally see Bob Kendricks and my people over at the NLBM inducting Pierre into their Hall of Game’s 2016 class. Pierre already received the James "Cool Papa" Bell Legacy Award from them in 2003 after he led the National League in stolen bases in 2001 (46) and 2003 (65). He definitely had a career worth acknowledging and with the stolen base being such an integral part of the African-American baseball experience, he gets major props for keeping the steal alive during a dormant period.