Juan Pierre had a two-word response when he heard his name was on the Hall of Fame ballot: “No way.”
He couldn’t believe it.
Pierre, the speedy outfielder who spent four of his 14 big-league seasons with the Marlins and was a key catalyst on their 2003 championship team, is one of 20 new candidates listed on this year’s ballot.
“Wow, that’s crazy,” Pierre said. “I never would have thought I would ever get on that because they put really good players on it. I considered myself a decent player, but not a really good player.”
Pierre was good enough to land a spot on the ballot, though, a singles machine who hit .295 for his career while stealing 614 bases. Three times he led the league in steals and he played every game over a five-year span from 2003-07.
“I took pride in that,” Pierre said of his durability. “One of the biggest accomplishments of my career was playing every single inning in ’04 [his second season with the Marlins].”
But a spot in Cooperstown, New York, likely doesn’t await.
This year’s ballot not only contains a number of high-profile holdovers (Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling) who are certain to receive a healthy share of votes, but also a handful of first-time candidates (Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, Todd Helton, Miguel Tejada and Andy Pettitte) expected to generate strong support.
“I don’t compare to those cats, man,” Pierre said.
As a result, it’s highly doubtful Pierre and others like him will even receive enough votes to remain on the ballot after this year. A player must be named on at least 5 percent of the ballots to stay on.
“I’m quite sure it’s going to be one year,” Pierre said of his Hall of Fame prospects. “My gauge is Kenny Lofton. Kenny Lofton was way better than me, and we’re similar types, and he didn’t stay on.”
For that matter, Pierre said he questions — with his skill-set — whether he would even fit in a modern lineup. He not only lacked power, hitting just 18 home runs during his entire career, but was almost entirely dependent on singles and bunt hits to get on base. He didn’t walk much.
“I don’t even think I would be playing right now,” he said. “My batting average was usually what my on-base percentage was. The leadoff guys now, they [opposing pitchers] aren’t worried about them getting on base. You get on base, so what? As long as we keep them in the yard, he probably won’t score.”
Pierre finished with three more hits for his career than Joe DiMaggio, more hits than Hall-of-Famers Harmon Killebrew and Johnny Bench.
But so many of them were singles.
And Pierre’s 2,217 hits are the most by any player never to make an All-Star team.
“I always kind of flew under the radar throughout my whole career,” Pierre said. “Numbers wise, even when I had decent years, I never got recognition for it, nationally or whatever. So I just figured I’d be under the radar, as well, when it came to the Hall of Fame stuff.”
Which is why Pierre said he is honored simply to be on the ballot, even if it’s only for one year.
“The elite of the elite actually get enough of a percentage just to stay on there another year,” Pierre said. “But just to be on the ballot is awesome, because I always look at the names on the ballot and think, wow, those are really good players.
“I’ll definitely get a picture of it and hang it up somewhere,” he said. “At least I can say I was on it.”