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Sam Donnellon: Juan Pierre jolted by his place in history

Published: Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013 5:26 p.m. CDT

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(MCT) — It's not April Fools' Day, so the headline the other day shook up just about everyone in baseball, Juan Pierre included.

"Pierre close to passing Joe DiMaggio on the all-time hits list," it read, and everyone, including the Marlins' veteran outfielder, squinted and read it again, convinced they or someone else had erred.

"You think of Joe DiMaggio, Willie McCovey, I feel my name should be nowhere close to them," said Pierre, who played in 130 games for the Phillies in 2012. "I guess it is pretty cool, but I wasn't aware of it until like a week ago. It's pretty cool."

Pierre is 36, the same age as DiMaggio when he retired with 2,214 hits. But while Joltin' Joe lost three seasons to World War II and was limited by injuries over his final three seasons, Pierre, who has accumulated 2,209 hits, has failed to play in at least 130 games just once since playing 51 games for the Rockies as a 22-year-old callup in 2000.

That he will eclipse DiMaggio's total is a tribute to Pierre's inspiring work ethic and understanding of a game that does not favor a man of his size or strength. That he has completely sneaked up on it may indicate, though, that our appreciation of the way he plays the game has diminished as our focus on power and its accompanying stats have increased.

Pierre has done everything he can to make himself stronger. When he takes off his jersey these days, he looks more like a light heavyweight than a speedy Punch and Judy hitter, but pitchers still rightly go after him as if he still weighs the 155 pounds he did as a rookie. That's one reason you still see him on the field before everyone else each day, bunting off a pitching machine, spraying balls into the empty pockets of the outfield.

"In order for me to get on base, I'd have to get hits," he said. "That's what I had to do in my career. Then, batting leadoff, it gives you a lot of opportunities to get hits or make outs. It was one or the other."

(Workers at Citizens Bank Park tell me the pitching machine Pierre used here hasn't left the storage room since he left here last season. If that's true, I love the guy even more.)

Anyway, I don't mean to suggest he is a Hall of Famer. There are plenty of guys ahead of him and DiMaggio on the hit list who aren't in the Hall and probably shouldn't be. But if the curators at Cooperstown put together a display about the game's hardest workers? Well, they should ask for Pierre's bat, glove, shirt, shoes and favorite pitching machine. DiMaggio once said he played hard every day because there might be someone in the stands who had never seen him play before. Pierre has said countless times, and again as he approaches the Yankee Clipper's hit total, that he plays hard because he appreciates every minute he's in a major league uniform.

More than any statistical total, it's what bonds the two.

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