Thursday, March 5, 2009

Juan Pierre: An Unsung Hero in a World of Selfish Athletes

I'm glad Manny's back with the Dodgers. They need that pop in the middle of the order (especially considering their pitching staff) and he really does seem to positively influence the players around him. As a Dodger fan, it's great.

The guy who loses, of course, is Juan Pierre. The scraggly outfielder who was overpaid because of the market when he was a free agent has done exactly what the Dodgers paid him to do (i.e. hit around .300 as a legitimate lead-off man and steal a ton of bases- he stole 40 last year in 119 games, 34 of which he didn't start). And yet he's gotten nothing but flack from Dodger fans.

Not this one. I'm a National League, small ball guy, through and through. I love pitching, defense, and guys who can run. I always thought that if the Dodgers ever could have gotten a full, healthy year out of Furcal and Pierre together at the top of an order, it would have been an amazing one-two punch. Pitchers would have a lot of trouble focusing on the three and four hitters with those two guys on the paths.

But all that is really tertiary to my point for this post, which is that Juan Pierre has been about as much of a grown-up and class act as anyone could be in the midst of the Manny saga. Last year when he was playing behind Andruw Jones, and later Manny, Pierre played hard every game and never complained (even when his consecutive games played streak was snapped at 434). The only comments you ever heard from him were things like, "I understand- we're trying to put the best team on the field and I want to do whatever it takes to still help us win." That's not a direct quote, but that was his constant tone.

And earlier this offseason when the Manny talks resumed, Pierre started asking for a trade if they got Manny back. Was he bitter? Nope. Again, he understands, but the guy just wants to play ball.

Here's what Pierre had to say about the re-signing:
I understand the situation, and if they hadn't signed Manny, it would have been a surprise. I'm not bitter about it. I totally get it, you know what I mean? But I want to play. So they gave us permission to talk to teams and try to find a situation that can work out for everybody, and that's all I can ask for...
I told [manager Joe] Torre today that I totally understand what's going on, and he said he would try to get me in there whenever he can. I have no beef with that. I told Joe I will be the team guy I've always been.

Look, Manny is Manny, and they've got two kids in Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp, and they can play. They had a chance to get Manny for free last year and they had to do it. Now, nobody is bidding for him, they had to bring him back. They kept me because they didn't want to be left with two outfielders. I'm not saying I'm OK with it, but I understand. It's just an unfortunate situation for me.

Juan Pierre wants to play, and he plays the game like it's supposed to be played. He runs out every ground ball. He never complains. He's giddy when he hits that rare home run.

Yesterday Terrell Owens, a guy whose talent is as high as the dollar amount on his paycheck, got cut by a football team after another productive season. Why? Because he can't get along with his quarterback. T. O. got thrown more balls than any player on his team last year and complained anyway.

The T. O.'s of the world need to take a lesson from Juan Pierre: it's about the name on the front of the jersey, not the one on the back. For that matter, it's about being a man, not a boy.

As a Dodger fan, I hope Pierre sticks around- he's a useful fourth outfielder with all that speed. But as a guy who respects Juan Pierre, I hope for his sake he finds a trade and can play every day somewhere. If anyone deserves it based on character and attitude, it's Juan Pierre.

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