Juan Pierre recently announced his retirement from the game, calling it a career ranked 18th all-time in stolen bases with 614 and a .295 career batting average through 14 seasons and 6 different teams; not to mention a World Series Championship. One of those teams was the Cubs, though it was only for one year in 2006.
On the left, we have Juan's 2006 Topps Flagship issue and on the right is his photoshopped card from the Factory Set
After a terribly slow start in Chi-Town, Juan ended up leading the NL with 204 hits and stealing 58 bases. He was a spark plug at the top of the Cubs lineup and did a much better job than Corey Patterson had the previous couple of seasons. Unfortunately, the offense behind him was lackluster after Derrek Lee was lost for the season in May and nothing was done to replace him. A month late trade for an over-the-hill Phil Nevin was the best you could do Jim Hendry?!
Compounding the issue, his other stats were pretty pedestrian, he didn't hit his stride until the season was already lost and his extraordinarily weak throwing arm cost the club several runs throughout the year. Thus, the Cubs let him walk that winter.
While Topps went the Photoshop route, Fleer went the lazy route
(I honestly don't know which way I actually prefer)
The Cubs played a pretty high price to acquire him from Florida as well. Ricky Nolasco was the centerpiece and has gone on to have a pretty good MLB career; he'd have looked really nice in the rotation of the 2007-08 one-and-done playoff teams - maybe they wouldn't have had to give up Josh Donaldson to get Rich Harden... but I digress.
To make matters even worse, Sergio Mitre had a few more good seasons as an innings eater and Renyel Pinto became a key cog in the Marlins bullpen for the next several seasons. Oopsy daisy.
Another strike against him in Cubdom was his role as a key contributor to the Marlins incredible comeback against the Cubs in the 2003 NL Championship series. All he did was bat .303 in 36 ABs and mashed the double off of Mark Prior in the 8th inning of game 6 that begat the ensuing historic rally. No doubt it was his performance in that heart-breaker of a set that put him on the Cubs radar.
Juan Pierre as a Marlin only helped to break Cubs fans' hearts
Now after all that, why would I have such a soft spot for this guy?
Well, as a runner, I always appreciate players who wreak havoc on the basepaths. It was always exciting to watch him as he took his lead off from first, twitching with anticipation. Juan was a genuine pest for the opposing pitcher and the Cubs have lacked that sort of game changing speed for many years before and since.
Not to mention, he always played the game with class and grace, despite the vitriol he received from the LA press for not living up to the large 5 year, $44 million contract he signed with the Dodgers after leaving the Windy City.
Initial lack of production, a hefty contract and the acquisition of Manny Ramirez fueled the fire in LA
He also had a little tradition that I thought was really cool before the NL told him to quit it in 2006: he always wore a camouflage shirt matching the color of his team underneath his jersey. For whatever reason, I latched onto it myself and immediately ran out to the local army surplus store and bought my own.
Scraggly, teenage me at the Wrigley garage sale in 2006; can I take a picture or what?
In addition, at the time the Cubs acquired him, I remember that he told the press that as soon as he heard the news, he went into his closet and pulled out an Andre Dawson jersey just to see what he would look like in Cubbie blue. I thought that was just the coolest thing; he was both enthusiastic to be a Cub and aware/respectful of the franchise history.
But, it wasn't just me; though he was a bit bit of a baseball nomad, he seemed to be pretty well-liked everywhere that he went. Even the Dodger press grew to like him after a little while. Juan was known for his work ethic and for his durability (5 years in a row of playing 162 games and only twice playing less than 130). Thus, Rockies, Marlins, Cubs, Dodgers, White Sox, Phillies and Marlins fans again enjoyed having him around.
Juan originally came up with the Rockies back in 2000
Plus, he really showed off his aforementioned class through his Twitter account on the day he announced his retirement. He tweeted out though-out and genuine "thank you" messages to each of the organizations and fan-bases that he played for. He also expressed his one regret in what turned out to be a very successful MLB career:
He's got jokes too!
I'll close out this post with my favorite card of Mr. Pierre, even though it doesn't depict him in blue pinstripes. It features him in the jersey of the franchise that he will likely be most identified with, the Marlins, during his second go-round and sunset season:
This 2013 blue sparkle parallel really gels with the oranges and yellows of the Miami uniforms quite well. I might typically find the recent phenomena of parallel madness rather annoying and silly, but I must admit that sometimes it produces some pretty spectacular pieces of cardboard.
So, here's to you Juan Pierre! You may have only lasted for one season on the north side of Chicago, but you and your speed sure did leave a mark on the Great American Pastime!