I’m convinced that athletes are the best storytellers on the planet. I feel like they remember every detail of every moment from their career. I can hardly remember what I ate for dinner yesterday, but these dudes can flashback to games they played decades ago without a problem. As I found out yesterday, former Major League Baseball player and manager Lou Piniella fits that same “great storyteller” mold.
Piniella was the keynote speaker at the Hutch Award Luncheon in Seattle. The award is given to a Major League Baseball player that excels on and off the field every year. San Francisco Giants pitcher Barry Zito received the honor this year, and for good reason: the guy is amazing when it comes to giving back. We should all applaud the work Zito does for charity.
Lou Piniella closed the event with a fabulous speech. I never realized the guy was so funny. He told three hilarious stories during his speech, and all made the audience (including me) burst into laughter. I’m going to share all three stories with you, but I have to put them in different posts (otherwise a single post with all three stories would be too long). Are you ready for this? The fun starts now!
I’m calling the series Story Time with Lou Piniella:
Lou Piniella was traded by the Kansas City Royals with Ken Wright to the New York Yankees for Lindy McDaniel on December 7, 1973. Piniella says that trade turned out to be the greatest moment of his 18-year playing career. After he was dealt, Piniella couldn’t wait to get to Spring Training with the Yankees.
Lou Piniella arrived at camp with the Yankees in Ft. Lauderdale in 1974. He walked into the clubhouse on his first day and quickly realized there wasn’t a uniform in his locker. Anxious to get on the field and get started, Piniella asked Yankees equipment manager Pete Sheehy what was going on. Sheehy told Piniella that George Steinbrenner saw him walking in from the parking lot and said that Steinbrenner wanted to talk to Piniella in his office.
Piniella did as he was ordered and walked into Steinbrenner’s office. He introduced himself as one of the new players from Kansas City, and he told Steinbrenner how excited he was to be with the Yankees. There was a problem though. Steinbrenner told Piniella, “We’re happy to have you here, but your hair is too long.” The Yankees had a strict hair policy under George Steinbrenner, a policy that existed until Steinbrenner’s death in 2010. Piniella didn’t see the problem with long hair, so he decided to debate (no surprise, right?). He told Steinbrenner, “Our Lord Jesus Christ was the greatest person who ever lived and he had long hair.” Steinbrenner didn’t say a word, instead he just grabbed Piniella by the hand and walked him across the street to the Ft. Lauderdale swimming pool. Steinbrenner pointed at the pool and told Piniella, “If you can walk across that water, you can wear your hair any way you want to.”
Let’s just say Piniella lost the argument…
Lou Piniella and George Steinbrenner built a strong relationship after that. Piniella never played for another team, suiting up for the Yankees from 1974-1984. Two years after he retired as a player, Steinbrenner introduced Lou Piniella as the Yankees manager. ”Sweet Lou” was the manager in New York for the 1986 and 1987 seasons, and then was promoted to general manager in 1988. Piniella jumped back into the Yankees dugout after Billy Martin was fired 69 games into the ’88 season. Piniella, who is now 69-years-old, respects George Steinbrenner so much that he still refers to him as Mr. Steinbrenner.
That’s it for this version of Story Time with Lou Piniella. I hope you enjoyed it! Stay tuned for more of Piniella’s stories, including his hilarious encounter with umpire Durwood Merrill, and a classic exchange between ”Sweet Lou” and Ichiro. I’ll post those stories soon! In the meantime, check out http://allaroundtim.com for more on the world of sports, music and travel. You can also connect with me right now on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook!