Lou Piniella accumulated more than 1,800 wins in a 23-year career as a big league manager. He won a World Series title with the Cincinnati Reds, and was even named Manager of the Year three times. Those are incredible accolades, but Piniella is remembered more for his fiery antics with umpires than anything else. Former Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox and ex-Baltimore Orioles skipper Earl Weaver have more all-time ejections, but no one put on a show quite like Lou Piniella.
In the first installment of Story Time with Lou Piniella, I told you about Piniella’s uncomfortable introduction to New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. It’s actually Steinbrenner who turned around and gave Piniella his first managerial job in 1986. Before the season started, Steinbrenner called Piniella into his office and said, “You’re first job is to win a World Series, but your second job, and almost just as important, is to help put fannys in the seats. So when you get kicked out of a ball game, put on a good show. I’ll pay your fine.”
Piniella clearly took Steinbrenner’s message to heart. The stats back it up: Piniella was ejected from 65 ball games as a manager. Piniella knows he has a reputation for getting ejected, and he says he’ll never dispute that. In fact, he tells old umpire war stories with pride. Welcome to the second installment of Story Time with Lou Piniella:
One of Piniella’s most memorable ejections happened with the Seattle Mariners. Bob Wolcott was pitching for the M’s at the time (so it happened sometime between 1995 and 1997) and he held a 5-2 lead in the fifth inning. Piniella says that’s when home plate umpire Durwood Merrill started “squeezing” Wolcott. That’s also when things got chippy.
Piniella says Wolcott was clearly getting frustrated by Merrill’s calls. In an attempt to help his young pitcher, Piniella yelled at Merrill from the dugout, “C’mon Durwood, you’re squeezing him!” That didn’t help anything, so Piniella went out to the mound “not to talk to Wolcott, but to wait for Durwood to come out.” Piniella wanted to chat with Merrill about the strike zone.
Piniella describes Durwood Merrill as a character, and it sounds like he had that reputation all over baseball. Wikipedia describes Merrill as “friendly and outgoing.” After he retired in 1999, Merrill even wrote a book called You’re Out and You’re Ugly, Too! It was a humorous collection of the umpire’s stories from 23-years in the big leagues.
So, Merrill finally came out to the mound to break up Piniella and Wolcott. Piniella asked Merrill, “Where are those pitches at?” Merrill just looked at Piniella and didn’t say a word. He finally broke the silence a few seconds later with a question for Piniella: “Did you ever go to college?” Piniella, who went to the University of Tampa, told Merrill that he did go to college. Merrill responded back, “Didn’t you learn in college that you don’t end a sentence with a preposition?” Piniella was a little stunned by the back-and-forth, but he quickly asked Merrill if he could rephrase his original question. Merrill told him, “You sure can.” Piniella then asked, “Where were those pitches at, Durwood? You no good, blind, [bleep], [bleep], [bleep]!”
It wasn’t long after that Piniella says he was watching the rest of the game with a cold beer in the clubhouse.
I’m sure Piniella was firy as a manager, but he seems like an extremely nice guy now that he’s retired. Piniella shared his stories at the Hutch Award Luncheon in Seattle last week, and he stayed after the event for more than a half hour signing autographs and taking pictures with everyone who asked. Piniella shared hugs with old Seattle media members and even shook my hand before our interview. I wasn’t expecting Piniella to be a jerk, but I was surprised at how pleasant he actually was. I realize now that Piniella isn’t full of rage (like I thought he was when I was a youngster growing up in Seattle), instead the base throwing and dirt kicking was all just an act. Piniella was simply the ultimate showman.
Do you have a favorite Lou Piniella ejection? I’d love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below or connect with me on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Stay tuned to http://allaroundtim.com for the final installment of Story Time with Lou Piniella. In the third part of the series, “Sweet Lou” shares a great story about Ichiro from his first Spring Training with the M’s in 2001. I’ll have that posted soon!