It’s been an up and down career for Mr. Piniella – but mainly up (when you look at his entire body of work).
Lou called to an abrupt end his baseball coaching career this past weekend due to health issues with his aging mother.
Piniella has been around baseball for a very long time – both as a player and as a skipper.
Back in 1962 Piniella was signed by the Cleveland Indians as an amateur free agent. Then that fall, he was drafted by the Washington Senators from the Indians in the 1962 first year draft. In August 1964, Piniella was sent to the Baltimore Orioles and played in his first major league game that year at the age of 21.
After retiring as a player, Piniella joined the Yankees coaching staff as the hitting coach. He managed the Yankees from 1986 to 1987. Piniella was promoted to general manager to start the 1988 season and took over as manager after the firing of Billy Martin on June 23.
Piniella managed the Cincinnati Reds between 1990 and 1992, a tenure that included winning the 1990 World Series in a 4 game sweep of the heavily-favored Oakland Athletics, who were the defending champions.
On August 21, 1990, in a home game against the Chicago Cubs, Piniella argued with umpire Dutch Rennert after Barry Larkin was called out at first at the end of the fifth inning. After throwing his hat down, Piniella was ejected. In response, Piniella ripped first base out of the ground and threw it twice toward right field. The Reds went on to win the game 8–1.
From 1993–2002, he managed the Seattle Mariners, winning the AL Manager of the Year Award in 1995, and again in 2001 when he led the Mariners to a record-tying 116 wins. After winning the 2001 AL Division Series, the Mariners dropped the first two games of the AL Championship Series, and Piniella held an angry post-game press conference in which he guaranteed the Mariners would win two out of three games in New York to return the ALCS to Seattle. However, the Yankees closed out the series at Yankee Stadium, and the Mariners have not reached the playoffs since. Following the 2002 season, Piniella left the Mariners to manage the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
In a game on September 18, 2002 in a 3–2 (10) win against the Texas Rangers, Piniella came out to argue a call in the bottom of the ninth in which the umpire called out Ben Davis after a close play at first and was immediately tossed by first base umpire C.B. Bucknor after throwing down his hat. Afterwards, he kicked his hat several times, aggressively approached Bucknor as he was screaming in his face, and kicked dirt on him as well. After being restrained by first base coach Johnny Moses, he then ripped first base from its mooring and threw it down the right field foul line twice after he imitated the umpire tossing him out.
In his first two seasons with the Devil Rays, Piniella was able to improve the team somewhat, and they won a franchise-record 70 games in 2004. This was also the first season in which they did not finish last in their division, which he also guaranteed (he also jokingly said, after saying it several times, “If I say it any more times I might have us winning the World Series!”).
On October 16, 2006, Piniella agreed to a three-year contract to manage the Chicago Cubs for $10 million with a $5 million option for a fourth year.
Famous for his anger and meltdowns, he showed it during a press conference after a Cubs-Reds game on April 13, 2007, when Cubs ace Carlos Zambrano blew a five run lead in the 5th inning in which the Reds scored 6 runs, winning the game 6–5. A reporter asked him what was not working for the Cubs. He responded in a loud, angry voice, “What the hell do you think isn’t working?! You saw the damn game! … This guy is your ace, you got a 5–0 lead with the eighth and ninth hitters coming up, you feel pretty good about that inning and all of a sudden it turns into a six-run inning,” Piniella said, obviously still agitated but calmer. “And then I bring in the reliever who’s throwing 30-to-40-foot curveballs to boot. I can see. I can start to see some of the ways this team has lost ballgames. I can see it. We’ve got to correct it obviously. This game here is one that got away from us that really shouldn’t.”
In a similar meltdown after the May 17, 2007, game against the Mets, Lou stated, “I don’t care about feelings.”
Behind the Microphone – Brief Broadcasting Career
After parting ways with the Devil Rays, Piniella spent one season as a color commentator for Fox Sports, joining Thom Brennaman and Steve Lyons in calling postseason baseball games.
During their broadcast of Game 3 of the 2006 American League Championship Series, Piniella was commenting on player Marco Scutaro who had struggled during the regular season but was playing well during the series. He stated that to expect Scutaro to continue playing well would be similar to finding a wallet on Friday and expecting to find another wallet on Saturday and Sunday.
Piniella then commented that player Frank Thomas needed to get “en fuego” which is Spanish for “on fire”, because he was “frio” meaning “cold”. Lyons responded by saying that Piniella was “hablaing [sic] Español” and added, “I still can’t find my wallet. I don’t understand him, and I don’t want to sit close to him now.”
FOX fired Lyons for making the above remarks, which FOX determined to be racially insensitive. Piniella later defended Lyons saying Lyons was “a man” and that “There isn’t a racist bone in his [Lyons’] body. Not one. … I’ve known the guy personally. He was kidding with me, nothing more and nothing less.”
I write all this to say – Lou…thanks for the memories ! Hope all works OK with your family. And, I’d expect to see more broadcasting in the not-to-distant future for Mr. Piniella.
And YES, looking at the whole body of work – I believe Lou Piniella will one day find himself enshrined in Cooperstown.