JUPITER -- Juan Pierre texted me this afternoon to say that he was officially retiring. Given that Pierre didn't play at all in 2014, the news should come as no shock to anyone. But Pierre was probably holding out hope -- as he did at the same time last year -- that he could hook on with some team in a reserve role, and that didn't happen.
The final numbers show that Pierre enjoyed an excellent 14-year major league career in which he amassed 2,217 hits (three more than Joe DiMaggio), 614 stolen bases (18th on the all-time list) and finished with an average of .295. He was an integral piece of the 2003 Marlins team that won the World Series and was voted the MVP of the Marlins for that season by the local chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. The trade in which the Marlins obtained Pierre just before the 2003 season ranks as one of the most significant ever made by the franchise.
During an era in which steroids-infused power was the rage, Pierre was an old-school throwback, a slap hitter with a dirt-stained uniform who survived on singles and the stolen base. With his bat, he was an expert sharpshooter, aiming for openings on the field, not the outfield walls in the distance. Pierre totaled just 18 home runs during his career, or two fewer than Sammy Sosa hit in the month of June, 1998. Of his more than 2,000 hits, 83 percent were singles.
He always wanted to be on the field, bristled at the mere suggestion of taking a day off, and did not miss a game -- playing in all 162 each year -- during his three full seasons with the Marlins from 2003-05. In 2004, he was the only player in the majors -- and only the third since 1971 -- to play in every inning of every game for his team.
After the Marlins wrapped up the National League's wild-card playoff spot in 2003 with a win over the Mets and spent the evening celebrating with champagne and beer, manager Jack McKeon gave all of his regulars the game off the next day. All except two: Miguel Cabrera, who was then a young rookie and had no standing, and Pierre, who demanded to play.
But Pierre's influence, which was considerable, went far beyond the raw numbers and his performance on the field. His work ethic was second to none, as he spent countless hours before every game working every angle to make himself better. He earned every dime of his paycheck. When he showed up at the ballpark, he came to work. I never once saw him collapse in the soft seating of the clubhouse furniture to watch TV, or sit at a table to play cards -- traditional time-killers during downtimes of the seemingly endless baseball season.
If the Marlins were out of town, you would find him bouncing baseballs off the wall to get a feel for the carom. Or rolling balls along the first and third base lines before batting practice to look for any tell-tale tilt that might effect his bunting. Or taking fragile rookie Dontrelle Willis under his wing and, with a left-handed catcher's mitt he bought, playing catch with the young hurler before pre-game stretch.
As a teammate, I can't recall another Marlin who was as revered as Pierre was inside the clubhouse. I never heard a negative word spoken about Pierre during his four seasons with the team, including his swan song season in 2013 when he spent most of the second half on the bench, gracefully accepting a reduced role without any hint of bitterness. He was the consummate pro and a role model.
Here's what former Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest had to say when I reached him to get his thoughts on Pierre:
"Probably him, more than anybody else, transformed that team," Beinfest said of the '03 Marlins.
On the Nov. 16, 2002, trade with the Colorado Rockies in which the Marlins obtained Pierre and Mike Hampton (who ended up going to Atlanta) in exchange for Charles Johnson, Preston Wilson, Pablo Ozuna and Vic Darensbourg:
"A big part of it at the time was marrying him with Luis (Castillo) at the top of the lineup and having that speed component," Beinfest said. "That was a huge threat with those guys. They were disruptive. What we didn't know at the time was the type of guy we were getting, with the work ethic and attitude he brought to the ballpark. He fit like a perfect piece on that team.
Beinfest said it was probably "the most important" trade he made during his tenure with the Marlins.
"You talk about your favorite players and he automatically pops in your mind, because who doesn't like Juan Pierre?" Beinfest said. "Even that last year in '13, he was great. He had an opportunity to go elsewhere late that season and he wanted to stay. Part of that was family, and part of that was J.P. just being loyal, who he was."
What others are saying:
Curt Schilling @gehrig38
@JPBeastMode @MLB DESPISED facing you, couldn't make you swing and miss. Congrats on a wonderful career and on being a good man
Dee Gordon @FlashGJr
Congrats on your retirement @JPBeastMode glad I can wear your number with the #Fish I hope I can continue your legacy!
Ozzie Guillen FND @OzzieGuillen
@JPBeastMode congrats buddy was a honor to be u coach u manager, but even better iam u friend all my best to u and u family true pro
Dan Jennings @LtDanJennings
Sad to see a true pro like @JPBeastMode retiring, learned a lot about the game and especially about being a Christian from him
Christian Yelich @ChristianYelich
Congrats @JPBeastMode on one hell of a career! Thank you for teaching me how to work and how to be a pro. Forever grateful
perry hill @PHill_bone
@JPBeastMode thanks for all the memories and thrills you gave all of us! Great teammate - tireless worker The game will miss you! #stopit
Troy Renck @TroyRenck
@JPBeastMode was hardest working player ever covered. They once locked him out of spring training so would take day off. Even better person
And finally from J.P. himself:
Juan Pierre @JPBeastMode
Wow I am blown away from all the tweets and the love I'm getting I can honestly say I left it all on the field no regrets #hustle#grit