Lou Piniella is one of baseball’s greatest journeymen—a player with the Orioles, the Indians, the Royals, and the Yankees, in addition to stints as a manager with the Yankees, the Reds, the Mariners, the Devil Rays, and the Cubs.
Piniella’s achievements as a manager include winning a World Series championship, AL Manager of the Year twice, and NL Manager of the Year once. With 1,835 career wins, Piniella is #14 on the all-time list—ahead of Hall of Fame managers Earl Weaver, Wilbert Robinson, Al Lopez, Miller Huggins, Tommy Lasorda, and Clark Griffith. Also, Piniella managed the Mariners to an American League single-season record of 116 wins in 2001.
And yet, Piniella is not graced with a plaque in the Hall of Fame. Why? Surely, his managerial success indicates a career deserving of inclusion into the exclusive club in Cooperstown, located at 25 Main Street. And that success emanated from determination. Piniella managed as he played—with fierceness to win and reluctance to lose.
Yankee owner George Steinbrenner gave Piniella his first manager job. Working for Steinbrenner came with legendary tension. But in a 2002 article by Ira Berkow in the New York Times, Pinieall acknowledged the opportunity. “I owe my managerial career to George,” said Piniella. “He made me the manager and it was on-the-job training. He saw something in me—I know he liked my intensity as a player—and he gave me a shot.”
“Intensity” to say the least. Piniella had the resolve of a bull charging the matador.
For Yankee fans, Piniella was a fixture on the “Bronx Zoo” teams that brought three American League pennants and two World Series titles to Yankee Stadium in the late 1970s. It was a volatile era, indeed. When Reggie Jackson joined the Yankees before the 1977 season, Piniella knew a storm was brewing around the star player and manager Billy Martin that would have made the tornado from The Wizard of Oz look like a slight breeze.
“It was obviously going to be explosive,” said Piniella in Bill Pennington’s 2015 book Billy Martin: Baseball’s Flawed Genius. “And Billy was right, it did cause problems with Thurman [Munson] and Craig [Nettles]. But at the same time, let’s face it, Reggie was never Billy’s kind of player. I think Billy did resent him a little. He didn’t like most guys who called attention to themselves.”
On June 16, 1984, Piniella played in his last game. Naturally, he had the game-winning RBI. Even though Piniella went 0-for-5 on the day, his efforts contributed value to the Yankees beating the Orioles 8-3—the crucial RBI came from a ground ball.
George Vecsey of the New York Times described Piniella’s psychological makeup in an account of the June 16th game. “His temper kept him in the minor leagues for most of the 1960’s, but later that temper hardened into a fierce athletic pride. Only rarely did the temper come through in New York—but when it did, the tantrum was a beauty. Who will ever forget Piniella sitting on the grass, pounding his fists on the east, raging over being called out by Ron Luciano during the 1978 playoffs?”
Piniella won the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 1969, notching a .282 batting average, 139 hits, and 68 RBI for the Kansas City Royals. “Sweet Lou” retired from playing during the 1984 season. His career statistics include a .291 batting average, 1,705 hits, and 305 doubles.
A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on June 16, 2016.
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