“Sweet Lou” Piniella Decides to Sail Away

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“Sweet Lou” Piniella Decides to Sail Away
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Lou Piniella announced today that his voyage in the game of baseball will come to a conclusion at the end of the 2010 season. The announcement by Piniella comes on the heels of the passing of George Steinbrenner and the retirement of Ken Griffey Jr. earlier this year.

“Sweet Lou” has spent 40 years in baseball, including 18 years as a player and 22 as a manager. It is hard to imagine him way back in 1969 when he was named Rookie of the Year, playing with the Royals.

Lou was a player that played hard and hated to lose. He went on to play with the Yankees from 1973-84, and got a job managing there from George Steinbrenner in '86. His stay with the Yankees was tumultuous, and Lou ended up going to Reds in 1990, where he managed his team to a World Series championship.

Lou is, of course, best remembered in the Seattle area for his years at the Conn of the Mariners from 1993-2002. He came into town at the behest of GM Woody Woodward, and proceeded to turn the Mariners into a force to be reckoned with in the American League West. I recall the 1994 strike-shortened season quite well, as Lou had his club motivated and on the move that year and was the team most feared at the time to go all the way, until the players went out on strike.

In 1995 the fans around the country, including here in Seattle, were slow to return to the stadiums. Were it not for the miraculous year the Mariners had under their fiery skipper in '95, we would not have baseball in Seattle today.

Outside of Don James, the coach of the Huskies in their golden era, no one comes close in the minds of most Seattle sports fans as to who the all-time best coach or manager has been in our area other than Lou Piniella.

Lou has a brilliant baseball mind and a personality and will to win that filled the old Kingdome, and later Safeco field. Lou piloted the great 2000 and 2001 teams that he took to the ALCS show-downs only to lose to the same Yankees.

There are a lot of sports reels filled with Lou Piniella out on the field sticking-up for his team in the passionate style that is long gone from Safeco field, but Lou was more than a hot-tempered manager. He was also a fiercely loyal manager who commanded respect from his players and in return, looked out for his guys.

I recall meeting Lou in person in the late 90’s, down at the old J&M café and bar in Pioneer Square. I shook his hand and was shocked at how humble and friendly he was in real life. Lou was actually a gentle loving guy who just happened to hate losing. I didn’t stick around to bug him as I respected/feared the guy too much to get on his bad side! The other time I had contact with Lou was in the 2001 season when prior to a game, I was down by the dugout as he came in off the field before a late season game. I remember yelling “Lou, we need to crank it up a notch!” He looked me right in the eye and gave me a quick nod in a respectful manner. Lou was a great judge of character and if he liked you he let you know, however, if you were a guy like Jeff Cirillo and weren’t hustling, he could be a player's worst nightmare.

There are plenty of myths and sea-stories surrounding Lou Piniella and his final years here in Seattle. One that was floating around towards the end was that Lou had gone in to see Howard Lincoln trying to get “another bat’’ so he could go all the way. Apparently, Lincoln said no and Lou supposedly said that things were going to revert back to the old losing days of the Mariners if he left town. Well the rest is history, Lou didn’t get what he needed to win, and he left town after the 2002 season. The Mariners have been in a perpetual rebuilding mode ever since.

It was a treat to see “Sweet Lou” when he was here with the Cubs, his latest club, a month or so ago. I managed to make it to the last game of the series and got one final chance to see the old firebrand storm out onto the field to argue a call at third. Lou did not put on a full performance that day but it was the first time during that series that both the Cubs and Mariners fans were cheering together...

Lou Piniella has done the right thing by announcing his retirement today, effective at the end of the year. This allows the Cubs time to try to find a manager to fill Lou’s shoes…good luck on that. The Cubs are struggling, and if you have seen any pictures of the skipper recently, you can tell that at 67, he is just getting tired.

Many people around baseball will miss Lou Piniella, and hopefully he will enter the Hall of Fame someday, but for fans here in Seattle, especially this year, it is a particularly painful reminder of the past. Thank you for taking the helm of our ship Lou, though the voyage was all too brief, it was the best we ever had here….http://jeffsmariners.com


Tagged: Cubs, Howard Lincoln, Ken Griffey Jr., Lou Piniella, Mariners

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