Over the years there have been many Dodgers that have left an indelible mark on the franchise. We have followed them, remembered them, even loved them. We still have Tommy Lasorda, the face of the Dodgers. We have Vin Scully, no, the incomparable Vin Scully, the voice of the Dodgers for over sixty years. We had and still have Jackie Robinson, the heart and soul of the Dodgers, in our hearts, the man who revolutionized the game and helped transform the social structure in his country. We even had a gay Dodger, Glenn Burke, a young man who died an unhappy death, much too soon. We have had many young players come through the farm system and a goodly number of good players acquired in astute trades. In among those Dodgers, there have been a number of heroes who gave us World Championships and much reason for pride in the Dodgers.
Conversely, there have been players that have disappointed when they did not reach the level projected for them. Some were veterans on the downhill side of their careers, some the victim of Dodger hype and perhaps others simply not appreciated for what they gave.
In a recent blog article, I asked, “Who is your candidate for a 110% award?” In that article I defined giving 110% as giving all that a player can give all the time.
I expect each of us have different players to whom we would give such an award, if it was in fact given. What would you say if there was a Dodger who had the following stats as a leadoff hitter? Would he be unappreciated? 1,942 games, 2,134 hits, 1,067 runs, 177 doubles, 71 triples, 20 homers, 458 RBI, 586 SB, .281 BA, .330 OBP. There was such a player, Dodger favorite Maury Wills. I loved Maury Wills but he was not unappreciated. He received the adoration of Dodger fans for his play on the field.
Now let’s compare Maury to another lead off hitter. His line reads as follows: 1,881 games , 2,141 hits, 1,039 runs, 244 doubles, 92 triples, 17 HR, 509 RBI, 591 SB, .297 BA, .346 OBP. Those statistics belong to my choice for the Dodger 110% award. He may well be an unanticipated selection and perhaps an unpopular choice. My selection for this award is based on a small Dodger sample but also on the other events in his career. That choice is Juan D’Vaughn Pierre who seemingly could not earn the adoration of Dodger fans no matter what he gave.
Juan Pierre played only three seasons with the Dodgers. Following the 2006 season he was signed to a five year, $44 million contract. There can be little doubt the contract was impulsive on the part of Dodger GM Ned Colletti and most likely ill advised. However, as mentioned many times before, what does a player do when offered that kind of contract, especially when he most likely could have been signed for considerably less? His new contract offered him about a 60% increase in pay, and an opportunity to play for the storied Dodgers for five years.
Before being signed by the Dodgers, Juan, also known as JP, had played in 162 games in each of the previous four years, averaged about 200 hits, averaged 97 runs, stole an average of 58 stolen bases with a batting average of .295. He was not a power hitter but was a beacon of consistency. In his first year (2007) as a Dodger, he played 162 games, had 196 hits, scored 96 runs, stole 64 bases and hit .293. The level of consistency persisted as he delivered exactly what he had given in the past. He performed exactly as advertised. Yet there were grumblings in LA.
Over the winter, along came Jones, long, lean, lanky Jones. Well not exactly long, lean, or lanky, as Andruw Jones arrived in L.A. considerably overweight, but then the classic Coasters song wasn’t written about him either. Juan started the season on the bench for the first time in his career, and spent about 300 AB’s on the bench. Andruw Jones’ performance with the Dodgers was just about the worst by a Dodger ever, yet he played 75 games, while Juan Pierre sat. In 2009 Manny Ramirez commanded the time in left field while cries for JP’s dismissal were making the rounds.
In short, Juan Pierre had been deceived. He was signed as an everyday player, not a bench player. Yet every time out he gave all he had. He practiced as hard as always, did not complain, suffering in silence, not demanding a trade. He wrote “In 2008, I found myself sitting on the bench on Opening Day for the first time in five years. This turned out being the toughest year of my life.“
JP was traded to the White Sox for the 2010 season and had two good seasons with the team, leading the AL in stolen bases in 2010.
In 2012 Juan was signed to a minor league contract with the Phillies. Through hard work he made the club and again had a productive season batting .309, with an OBP of .351, along with 37 stolen bases in 394 plate appearances. When asked about his new role Juan replied: “I’m ready to play whatever role they want me in. I just wanted the chance to make a team. If they need me to come off the bench, I’ve done that before in my career in L.A. I’m not even concerned about that. My main goal is to try to make the team and help out in any way I can.” Juan went on: “ I’ve busted my butt my whole career, but nobody owes me anything. I’m just thankful to still be able to put on a uniform.“
The upcoming season is a déjà vu all over again for JP as he will go to Spring Training with a new team, this time with the Marlins, his fourth team in five years. He may get regular playing time and be the leadoff hitter for the Marlins, but regardless of his role, he will be ready at age 35 and will again excel at what he does, giving everything he has every time.
Although he seems to be a player with minimal skills, he works at his trade, and works hard to maximize those skills turning them into net benefits for the team. For him, it’s all about the team. He appreciates the benefits of the bunt which he uses in a variety of situations, not taking it for granted, but working at bunting every week after all these years. He explains:”I practice it four times a week. I’ll get out before batting practice and work on it. I can’t just show up and do it. In Spring Training, I bunt 50 to 100 times every day.”
Juan Pierre is the 30th player in Major League history to have 1,000 runs, 2,000 hits and 500 stolen bases, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The most recent members of that club were Tim Raines, Rickey Henderson, Kenny Lofton and Barry Bonds. To even be mentioned in the same breath as those players, and twenty-five others, Juan had to be playing at 110% to achieve what he has achieved. Every game he plays as if he is a role player, as if it is his first game, and has throughout his career. Quite often we read that a player is a good acquisition because he has a World Series ring so he knows how to win. Many forget that Juan Pierre has a World Series ring which he won with the Marlins in 2003. In that series Juan had seven hits and five walks and drove in three runs tying Miguel Cabrera for the team lead in RBI’s.
Juan Pierre came to the Dodgers with a pedigree as a winner, a dedicated athlete who worked, didn’t cheat in any way, and was a good teammate. In the forgetfulness that it is the little things that win games, he was an unappreciated Dodger, by management, by his manager and especially by some Dodger fans not appreciative of his skills and effort. He definitely gets my vote for the 110% award.