by Kevin Burton
Ever have a person who just showed up in your life multiple times?
Maybe you worked with them once, then they dated a friend of yours, shopped at your main grocery store, maybe volunteered at one of the places you do?
Well in the baseball sense I have someone who shows up at many of my favorite places.
Past glories are the only glories in baseball this year. The responsible thing to do, with the Coronavirus raging, would be to cancel the 2020 season. We will see what actually happens.
But one man shows up in no fewer than four places and contributes to my favorite teams. That man is Lou Piniella.
“Sweet Lou” they call him because of his temper. If you are looking on You Tube at a compilation of manager tirades, you are likely to see a clip of Sweet Lou, digging up first base and throwing at as far as he can into right field.
Counting the tirade reel maybe I should say he shows up in five places.
Piniella was the manager of the 1990 World Champion Cincinnati Reds. The Reds led wire to wire that year. They beat Pittsburgh in the National League Championship Series before sweeping the almighty Oakland A’s in the World Series.
The team was led by Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin and slugging outfielder Eric Davis. The pitching ace and World Series MVP was Jose Rijo. But their dominance came from “The Nasty Boys,” relief pitchers Randy Myers, Norm Charlton and Rob Dibble. Get into the eighth with a lead and the Nasty Boys took care of business from there.
In 1995 Piniella was manager of the “Refuse To Lose” Seattle Mariners. I was in Washington working for a weekly newspaper that year.
Born as an expansion team in 1977, The Mariners had only three winning seasons before 1995. Seattle was in real danger of losing the team because a deal for a new stadium looked doubtful.
The team made a furious late-season charge at the West division title, getting some help from the first-place California Angels who did a lot of losing.
It came down to a one-game tiebreaker game for the division title at the Kingdome. I remember covering a city government meeting and they had the playoff game on the TV during the meeting. Being with that group of fans during their first success was as fun as anything I’ve ever experienced as a baseball fan.
The Mariners won that tiebreaker and won the division series in dramatic fashion against the Yankees. Every expansion team winning its first playoff series should win it over the Yankees. They won it on a two-run double in the bottom of the 10th by Hall of Famer Edgar Martinez.
It was electric.
As a player, Piniella was rookie of the year with the 1969 Kansas City Royals. In 1973 he hit 312 with 33 doubles, whereupon the Royals stupidly traded him to the Yankees. He was traded straight up for “Jim (bleeping) Wohlford” as Piniella mentions in his autobiography.
Never heard of Jim Wohlford? That’s the point.
Reds, Royals, Mariners are my teams and Piniella made a significant contribution to all of them.
The fourth place Piniella shows up is in “Ball Four” the great book by the Late Jim Bouton. He shows up there because the expansion Seattle Pilots drafted him in 1969. He was traded to the Royals during spring training.
Bouton praised Piniella for showing solidarity with the players in a planned strike, even though he was a rookie desperately trying to make the major leagues.
“I reached Lou in Florida and he said his impulse was to report, that he was scared it would count against him if he didn’t…but he had thought it over carefully and decided he should support the other players and the strike, so he was not reporting,”
“That impressed the hell out of me,” Bouton wrote.”
Piniella would continue to impress in a long baseball career.
I have relatives in Seattle, and I remember taking a family vacation there when I was in high school. We went to a game at what was then known as Safeco Field, and it was a cool experience. I bought an Edgar Martinez jersey from one of the stadium shops; I always admired him from afar in Kansas City. If there is such a thing as an underrated Hall of Famer, I think Edgar would be it.
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