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Dodgers' Pierre takes blue-collar approach

The speedy center fielder has been putting in long hours since high school days to perfect his trade.

February 26, 2007|Kevin Baxter | Times Staff Writer

"He was the kind of guy that went out and did the little things," said former Marlins manager Jack McKeon, who compares Pierre to Tony Gwynn, the Hall of Fame outfielder he drafted and managed in San Diego. "They have pride in their ability, and they want to be the best they can be. He's a workaholic."

But praise for those workaholic ways often turns to criticism when Pierre slumps. When he was with the Colorado Rockies, for example, then-manager Buddy Bell threatened to fine Pierre if he came to the ballpark on a scheduled rest day during spring training. And before his last season with the Marlins, Pierre sat out nearly all of training camp because of a calf injury after a winter spent doing extensive workouts under the direction of former NFL star Cris Carter.

Pierre's weak throwing arm and his aggressiveness at the plate -- he has drawn more than 45 walks only once in his career, resulting in a .350 lifetime on-base percentage -- have led some to argue that the Dodgers may not be getting the bargain they thought they were when they signed the 29-year-old free agent to a five-year contract.

"There aren't too many guys who are the total package," said Pierre, who is already working with Dodgers legend Maury Wills to improve his bunting and baserunning. "I'm not a free swinger. I don't get up there and just try to hack. That's why I'm in the cage and bunting and doing those little things.

"I'll continue to work on it, but I don't want to lose my aggressiveness as a hitter to try to walk more."

Perry Hill, the Marlins infield and first base coach, said Pierre was the key addition to the team in 2003.

"Every time I talk to Juan Pierre I say thank you because when he came over here, it made all the difference in the world," he said. "We won a World Series. He was the straw that stirred the drink. ...

"He's infectious. You can't help but like him. You can't help but respect him."

Willis is certain Pierre, who was a groomsman in the pitcher's wedding last fall, will have an impact in L.A. -- provided he can handle the freeways, that is.

"Juan doesn't like traffic," Willis said of his friend, who has a condo in Marina del Rey but spends most of the off-season at his house in South Florida. "That's the one thing he can't stand."

That could be a problem, because Pierre, unlike most of his teammates, will be dealing with the morning rush even when the Dodgers are playing at night.

"He'll go to the stadium at 10 o'clock for a 7 o'clock start," Willis said with a laugh. "He's definitely a rare guy in what he does. I just figure if I can do a tenth of what he does, then I'll be ready."

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Hit parade

No National League player has more hits over the last four seasons than center fielder Juan Pierre, who signed with the Dodgers in November. Following are the major league leaders since 2003:

*--* Player Team 2006 2005 2004 2003 Total Avg. Ichiro Suzuki Seattle 224 206 262 212 904 226 Michael Young Texas 217 221 216 204 858 214.5 Juan Pierre Dodgers 204 181 221 204 810 202.5 Miguel Tejada Baltimore 214 199 203 177 793 198.3 Albert Pujols St. Louis 177 195 196 212 780 195 Derek Jeter N.Y. Yankees 214 202 188 156 760 190

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