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Figgins deserving of All-Star spot

Figgins deserving of All-Star spot

ANAHEIM -- From Juan Pierre's perspective, there is no doubt. Chone Figgins belongs on the American League All-Star team.

But before taking the initiative as Figgins' unofficial campaign manager, Pierre -- Figgins' buddy since their early days in the Colorado organization in 1997 -- made a qualifying statement.

"Chone and I have been close for a long time," Pierre, the Dodgers' outfielder and offensive catalyst, said. "So I am a little biased.

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"I want to say right here that Chone is an All-Star player. He makes his team go. He plays both sides of the ball. He's playing Gold Glove third base, and he has a .400 [.405, actually] on-base percentage. He's doing it all. He belongs in the All-Star Game.

"People can tell when he gets on [base] how he creates havoc. Knowing how hard he's worked on the game, it's nice to see him doing what he's doing."

Figgins' numbers clearly are All-Star caliber. Tied for third in the American League with his .330 average, Figgins is among the AL leaders in runs scored (53, fourth), hits (89, fifth), steals (23, fourth), on-base percentage (third) and road batting average (.366, second).

Even though Ichiro Suzuki's batting average is 31 points higher, Figgins' on-base percentage is 11 points higher than the Mariners' superstar -- and every other leadoff man in the game.

Now that the All-Star Game provides home-field advantage in the World Series for the winning league's champion, it's much more than an exhibition and a show. The game has relevance.

Like Pierre, who taught him how to train with a plan, Figgins is baseball's version of a gym rat. These guys live for the game.

When he's not at the ballpark, Figgins can be found in front of his television, watching the MLB Network. He's especially fond of grainy film of the 1960s, studying legends he's heard and read about, such as Willie Mays, Henry Aaron and Mickey Mantle.

Figgins has been watching All-Star Game highlights lately. His words make it abundantly clear that nobody would appreciate a ticket to St. Louis more than the Angels' leadoff catalyst.

He knows he won't get the starting nod in the fans' balloting, but if he gets the call as a reserve, he'll have the biggest smile in the team picture.

"That's center stage," Figgins said of the Midsummer Classic. "It doesn't get any better. For that one time, to say I was an All-Star, it would be such an honor. I can't even begin to tell you how much that would mean to me.

"Once you're an All-Star, it never changes. You're always an All-Star. When he was with us, Garret [Anderson] was 'two-time All-Star Garret Anderson.' It's 'two-time All-Star Torii Hunter' [and] 'two-time All-Star Bobby Abreu.'

"People hear that, and they think, `Hey, maybe he's a good player.' I've talked to guys about that. It changes how you're looked at, gives you credibility. You feel respected. You're not just a Major League player any more. You're an All-Star. It's like part of your name, your identity."

Until recently, Figgins' identity was tied to his ability to play six positions -- and play them well.

"I can move around, play multiple positions," Figgins said. "The game's going to be in a National League park, with no [designated hitter]. I've got my outfield glove ready to go. I could play three or four positions if they need me to. [American League manager] Joe [Maddon] knows that. He knows me."

Maddon, field commander of the Rays, was Angels manager Mike Scioscia's bench coach before accepting the job with Tampa Bay.

It is Figgins' hope that enough peers share Pierre's view and see his value, giving him enough votes to make the team as a reserve.

Third base is a loaded position. Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria, Toronto's Scott Rolen and Texas' Michael Young also are having big seasons, and New York's Alex Rodriguez is Alex Rodriguez.

Scioscia calls Figgins "as good a leadoff hitter as there is in the game, and a terrific third baseman.

"Figgy, for the whole season, has seen a lot of pitches," Scioscia said. "He's comfortable getting deeper in counts. This is what Figgy did a couple years ago [when he batted .330 in 2007]. He has the kind of potential to do this. He's playing at a high level."

He might not fit the prototype at third, but his quick hands and feet, along with a rocket of an arm, more than compensate for any perceived shortcomings.

Offensively, he is making pitchers earn every out.

"I've become more patient," Figgins said. "I don't panic. I've learned to be comfortable hitting with two strikes. These are all things that come with experience, with knowing yourself.

"Early in the season, I was hitting balls hard but not having a lot of success. I kept telling myself, 'Don't panic. Stick with your approach.' It's hard to be a .400 on-base guy leading off, because nobody wants you to get on. They put a lot of focus into making quality pitches. So you have to work at it, fight off good pitches. Guys like Bobby [Abreu], Mark Teixeira, Chase Utley, they're great at it."

Pierre has never made an All-Star team despite great seasons -- notably 2004, after driving Florida to the World Series title the previous October. He had 221 hits, batted .326, scored 100 runs, stole 45 bases -- and was not on the National League roster.

"Guys like Chone and myself, because of our style, we don't attract a lot of attention," Pierre said. "We're used to that. It's the guys who hit the home runs and drive in runs who get the attention."

Pierre -- and Figgins -- hope enough people are taking notice this time of the value of the Angels' catalyst.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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