LOS ANGELES—Juan Pierre has gone back to the Dodgers bench with the return of Manny Ramirez from his 50-game exile for violating baseball’s drug policy.
Pierre, however, is no longer forgotten.
The only regrettable part about Pierre’s 50-game opportunity to reaffirm his big league status is it wasn’t enough to earn him an all-star spot. Too bad. He deserves it. He’s what the game should be about—integrity, honesty and humility, three words missing from Ramirez’ vocabulary.
With Pierre playing in all 50 games, primarily hitting leadoff, the Dodgers went 29-21, and Pierre hit .318. He stole 21 bases, and scored 34 runs. He most likely won’t get more than a start or two a week—barring an injury —as long as he is with the Dodgers, but manager Joe Torre knows he has to make an effort to get Pierre some playing time.
There also is the possibility that in light of the solid effort Pierre put in, he could have created a trade market, although the Dodgers most likely would have to pick up a sizeable chunk of the $23.5 million the Dodgers still owe in the final half of his five-year deal.
“I still have no power and still have no arm, but I am the same player I was when I came here and can still do things (that help a team win),” he said. “I never doubted myself.”
He did, however, do himself a disservice with his approach a year ago. He came to grips with that during the offseason.
“I realized the situation I came into two years ago has changed,” Pierre said. “First it was Andruw Jones (signed at the start of last season) and then Manny (who joined the Dodgers last August). I realize there are decisions others make and I can only control what I can control.
“I can control keeping myself ready and taking advantage of the opportunity I get.”
Pierre was once a baseball ironman. While he moved from the Marlins to the Cubs to the Dodgers in the 2003-07 seasons, he played in every game those five years, and was proud of his ability to handle the grind. He was the offensive catalyst to the Marlins’ World Series championship team in 2003, and the major offseason addition in 2006 for the Cubs, who gave up pitchers Sergio Mitre, Ricky Nolasco and Reynel Pinto to acquire Pierre. Then, prior to 2007, the Dodgers signed him to a five-year, $44 million free agent contract.
A year ago, however, he was relegated to part-time duty. He got some playing time in the first half of last year thanks to Jones being hurt, but made only 19 starts in the final three months of last season.
And he pouted.
Oh, he worked to not let it show, but anyone who knew Pierre knew he wasn’t himself, and Pierre finally had to admit it.
“I was terrible,” he said. “I am embarrassed about it. I felt I was still a good teammate, but inside, it was eating at me. I never said anything, but it got to me and it was something I had no control over. That didn’t do me or anybody else any good.
“Once I faced that I feel it made me better. It’s a credit to God. He has a plan. I have to look at what happened last year and appreciate it because it made me stronger, not just on the baseball field, but in life in general.
“I love playing the game as much as I ever did, and I want to play every day, but that’s not my decision. What I can control is being ready for each time I get a chance to play. During the winter I knew I had to come back this year and be ready for the changes. I knew it might be a day or two, maybe a week, but I didn’t want to waste what opportunity came my way.”
Turned out it became a 50-game opportunity and Pierre didn’t waste it, helping the Dodgers hold on to the NL West lead while Ramirez was banned from the game.
“You never know what’s going to happen and if you don’t keep yourself ready, you will waste what opportunities you get,” he said. “He made me realize that. I have to use my abilities to glorify His name.
“You get caught up in baseball, but it is just a game. It isn’t going to define you as a man. How you handle yourself in the challenges you face in life is what matters.”