Pierre bummed about the bunt
Phillies outfielder thinks the technique is slowly disappearing
Juan Pierre looks around baseball and shakes his head sadly as he watches an old friend slowly disappear from the Major League landscape.
This is not some old teammate who is vanishing from the scene. Rather it is a tactic, an old-school technique that Pierre has used with great success extensively in a productive 12-year career.
"I think bunts are dying out," the Phillies left fielder said. "Teams don't put the emphasis on it that they used to. They're not even prevalent in the Minor Leagues anymore. I spent the last two years in the American League, and you never see it over there. At least in the National League, with pitchers hitting, you still have some."
Pierre has always used the bunt as part of his offensive arsenal. He got into the habit early in his career.
"When I was starting out, they made us do it," he said. "My first manager was Buddy Bell. He said I had to learn it. I remember in Colorado, Dave Collins and Dallas Williams would have me out there every day. I'd bunt between 100 and 200 balls. I'm glad I did. I take pride in bunting."
He ought to. Going into June, Pierre had a half dozen bunt hits this season, helping build a .340 batting average that is among the best in the Phillies lineup.
"I believe if you can run a bit, the threat of the bunt can give you holes to hit through," Pierre said. "Even if you bunt to sacrifice for one run, it's important.
"I practice it four times a week. I'll get out before batting practice and work on it. I can't just show up and do it. In Spring Training, I bunt 50 to 100 times every day."
Pierre is only one run shy of 1,000 scored for his career. When he reaches that total, he will become the 30th player in Major League history to have 1,000 runs, 2,000 hits and 500 stolen bases, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The most recent members of that club were Tim Raines, Rickey Henderson, Kenny Lofton and Barry Bonds. Others who have done it include Hall of Famers Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Paul Molitor, Joe Morgan, Lou Brock and Ozzie Smith. In addition, Pierre is just four RBIs short of 500 for his career.
Pierre was drafted in the 13th round in 1998, and he won batting and stolen-base titles in his first professional season with Portland of the Northwest League. Two years later, he was in the Major Leagues with the Rockies, and after being traded to Florida, he was a key member of the 2003 world champion Marlins team, batting .305 with 65 stolen bases. He also had a league-leading 15 sacrifice hits that season and was voted the team's Most Valuable Player.
The next year, he played every inning of every Marlins game, just the third player since 1971 to do that, and led the National League with 221 hits, 12 triples and 24 bunt hits.
Traded to the Cubs in a salary dump, Pierre again led the National League in hits in 2006 with 204, including a league-leading 21 bunt hits and 30 infield hits. He moved on to the Dodgers the next season and led the Majors with 19 bunt hits. There were two more seasons with the White Sox, where he led the Majors with 68 steals in 2010, before he moved to the Phillies.
Pierre is also one of four Major Leaguers with 100 or more stolen bases with three different teams, joining Tommy Harper, Brett Butler and Otis Nixon on that list.
"Not bad for a country boy from Louisiana to last 12 years," Pierre said. "I never thought as a kid growing up that I could play in the big leagues."
He's proven that he could many times since then. And the vanishing bunt has been a big part of his success.
Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.