One player who can be proud of his 2012 season amidst the Philadelphia Phillies’ wreckage is Juan Pierre, a guy who wasn’t even supposed to be there as the team strove for another World Series championship. Instead of being merely a complementary piece, Pierre has out-shined most of the regulars and those who in the pre-season were expected to be the stars of the team.
If someone had told Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. in March that Pierre was going to be one of his team’s top hitters all season he likely a look of sheer bafflement would have crossed his face. But it’s true. Pierre is batting .304 and after originally being pencilled in as a backup scheduled to see limited action, Pierre has been a full-time player for three-quarters of the season.
An 11-year veteran, Pierre spent 2010 and 2011 playing for the Chicago White Sox. He liked playing for Chicago, but when his contract was up the White Sox chose not to bring him back for another go-around. When you are a 34-year-old baseball player and you don’t have an affiliation and your phone doesn’t ring, that can color your mood every day.
“I know I didn’t have a great year last year, but my numbers weren’t that bad and not to get a call from any big-league team for a big-league job was disappointing,” Pierre said in a recent interview.
His numbers weren’t that bad at all. Last year Pierre hit .279 and led the American League with 19 bunts for hits. Although Pierre is not as fast as he used to be, that bunt total indicates he hasn’t slowed down to Model T speed yet, either. So nobody offered Pierre a Major League job during the off-season. The best arrangement he could come by was a minor-league contract from the Phillies and the opportunity to go to spring training. It was insulting and demoralizing, but Pierre was certainly motivated.
“All I did was ask them for a chance to make the team,” Pierre said. “So they gave me the chance in spring training and the rest took care of itself. I guess I showed them enough for them to keep me on the team.”
Once upon a time the Phillies considered themselves to be set in the outfield, and, for that matter, everywhere in the lineup. This season began with the goal of making it to the World Series and the realistic outlook that it could happen. But there were injuries. Then there were more injuries. Then there were slumps. After a while, Pierre, who took the last position-player spot on the roster, was a starter in left field and he was out-hitting everyone on the team not named Carlos Ruiz.
“I’ve been playing more than they expected,” said Pierre, who bats at or near the top of the order. “I just made the most of it. I’m just grateful every day that I’m here, No. 1, and No.2, that I am in the lineup wherever I am.”
The Phillies were pre-season favorites among many to be the National League representative in the Series. But when September arrived it was clear that Philadelphia would have to launch a full-blast stretch run just to reach .500. The Phillies have done so and crept to 69-71 with a couple of weeks left in the season.
“It’s been a big surprise,” Pierre said of how the season unfolded. “We’ve had some injuries, which every team does. It’s just been one of those crazy years, especially after those guys coming off a 100-win season last year, keeping the same team. We didn’t have Ryan Howard at the beginning of the year (recovering from an Achilles injury), but they had enough pieces to maintain. Now we have to make it a season where you don’t have to hang your head and know that you battled through it.”
Pierre may be a .300 hitter (he stroked two singles against the Cincinnati Reds the day he was speaking), but he is also going to be a free agent once again after the season. He knows he may not be a Phillie much longer, but he wants to stay in the game.
“I’ll go wherever,” Pierre said. “I just want to keep playing. I had a good year, but you never know.”
After being burned somewhat last off-season, Pierre is cautious when evaluating what might happen.
“Hopefully there are people out there who see my game and value it as much as in the past,” Pierre said. “I’m not a home-run guy (he has one this season). I’m a speed guy still. I know I’m getting up there in age, but I can still move around good.”
Surely the phone will ring this time around?
“We’ll see,” Pierre said. “We’ll see.”