Story Time With Lou Piniella | Ejections

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.

Lou Piniella Ejections

Lou Piniella doing what he did best

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.

Lou Piniella Mariners Ejections

A classic “Sweet Lou” moment

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!

RELATED ARTICLES

Story Time with Lou Piniella | George Steinbrenner
Story Time with Lou Piniella | Ichiro

Story Time With Lou Piniella | George Steinbrenner

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.

Lou Piniella | Hutch Award Luncheon

Lou Piniella speaking at the Hutch Award Luncheon

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 Royals Yankees

Lou Piniella in Kansas City compared to Lou Piniella in New York

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!

RELATED ARTICLES

Story Time with Lou Piniella | Ejections
Story Time with Lou Piniella | Ichiro

An Insiders Look At The Ichiro Trade

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you know by now that long-time Seattle Mariners star Ichiro Suzuki was traded to the New York Yankees. In a unique set of circumstances, the Yankees were in Seattle at the time of the trade, so Ichiro literally had to walk down the hall of Safeco Field to join his new team. And then, just an hour after he was standing in the Mariners’ clubhouse for the last time, Ichiro was on the field for the Yankees — in front of the fans that rooted him on for nearly 12 seasons.

Ichiro Trade Press Conference

The Seattle Mariners official press conference

I actually learned about the Ichiro trade when I was driving into work. I was originally expecting a fairly easy day at the ballpark, simply previewing the series opener between the Yankees and Mariners, but I quickly realized that wasn’t going to be the case. I walked into the newsroom and there was a definite buzz. Instructions immediately started flying in my direction, and I was quickly on my way to Safeco Field for the Mariners official press conference.

I’ve never seen so much media at Safeco before. Yes, I’m new to Seattle again, but I did an internship with KOMO radio in 2003 when they were the flagship station for the Mariners — I was at every M’s home game and I never witnessed anything like this. The interview room was packed with local, national and international reporters. Ichiro was very stoic (for lack of a better word — maybe straight-faced is better) at first and he sat with perfect posture. He spoke through an interpreter — only addressing the media in Japanese. Ichiro thanked the Seattle fans and said he was overcome with emotion when he thought about wearing the Mariners uniform for the last time. Suzuki requested the trade, something he started thinking about over the All-Star break. After 15 minutes or so, Seattle’s front office left the podium, and New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi replaced them. Ichiro seemed to loosen up after that. He spoke louder, smiled and even started cracking jokes. He just seemed really comfortable with his new surroundings.

It’s not often a player in any sport is traded to the opposing team at their home ballpark. Ichiro said goodbye to his old teammates and then was suited up against them just hours later. It was honestly surreal for me to watch Ichiro take the field for the first time in a Yankees uniform (and it was even more unbelievable that it was happening at Safeco Field). He received an ovation from the New York and Seattle fans who were there to watch batting practice. Instead of hanging out with Felix Hernandez, Dustin Ackley and Chone Figgins, Ichiro was now joking around with Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and C.C. Sabathia. It was interesting to see.

The ovations didn’t stop for Ichiro all night. The crowd roared when his name was announced in the Yankees starting lineup (batting eighth, playing right field and wearing the number 31 — he didn’t want to wear 51 to honor former New York Yankees great Bernie Williams), they cheered when he ran onto the field to take his position in the outfield, and they rose to their feet when he made his first plate appearance. Ichiro, appreciating the gesture, stepped out of the box, lifted his cap to the crowd, and then bowed to the fans. It was a very emotional moment for anyone in the dugouts, in attendance at Safeco Field and watching on television. I honestly got chills when the Seattle fans started the famous ”I-chi-ro” chant — even though their former star was now trying to beat their beloved Mariners.

View From Safeco Field Press Box

My view from the Safeco Field press box for Ichiro’s debut as a Yankee

Ichiro finished the night 1-for-4. He got a hit in his first at bat, stole second, and was eventually stranded on base. Suzuki then popped out to second in his second at bat, grounded out to first in his third plate appearance, and then lined out to second in his last at bat. As luck would have it, Ichiro made the final out of the game as Jesus Montero flied to right to secure a 4-1 Yankees victory. Suzuki’s catch capped an all around crazy night at Safeco Field — unlike anything we’ll see again in the near future.

After the game Ichiro told me that it was a “tough day” and he was actually ”nervous” for the his first game as a Yankee. He said that he’s happy the trade is over, and now he can start to focus on baseball again. Alex Rodriguez never played with Ichiro in Seattle, but the two became friends over the years anyway. A-Rod (which is what the name plate says above his locker) called Suzuki a “rock star” and he says this should serve as a huge “shot in the arm for Ichiro.” A fresh start might just be what Ichiro needs too — he was hitting a career low .261 in Seattle this season.

I wasn’t surprised Ichiro was traded to the Yankees (or anyone else for that matter). I was only shocked by what the Mariners got in return for him. Here’s a quick survey — raise your hand if you’d ever heard the names D.J. Mitchell or Danny Farquhar before the Ichiro trade. OK…now raise your hand if you still have no idea who D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar are. Chances are we’ll never know much about either of these guys. Both are 25-year-old right-handed pitchers, and both are currently in AAA. Williams, who’s played all of three games in the big leagues in his career, has a 5.00+ ERA in the minors this season, while Farquhar is now playing for his third team this year. If Mitchell and Farquhar are remembered for anything; chances are they’ll be remembered as “the guys who were traded for Ichiro.”

Tim Lewis Seattle Safeco Field

Working hard at Safeco Field after the Ichiro trade

There’s a part of me that thinks it’s cool the Mariners honored Suzuki’s trade request by sending him to a winner. At 38, Ichiro is getting older, and his window to win a World Series is getting smaller. Suzuki is one of the best players to ever come through Seattle, and he kept the M’s on the baseball map even after several consecutive miserable seasons. He served his time in the Emerald City and it was time for him to move on. I do think it’s interesting that the Mariners just gave Ichiro away though. When I first heard about the deal, I expected to hear that one of New York’s top prospect was heading to Seattle — instead it was two minor league relief pitchers and cash. The M’s literally gave Ichiro away.

Covering the Ichiro trade is a something I’ll never forget. It’s always wild to be thrust into the biggest story in sports. We were all at the center of the baseball world. There’s nothing more thrilling in the television business than a huge, breaking story like this. I was there to experience everything firsthand — from a perspective that hardly anyone else got to. That’s why I feel like I have the best job in the world, and I’m happy to share my “inside” experience with you.

What is your reaction to Ichiro being traded to the New York Yankees? How weird was it to see Ichiro in a different uniform — playing against his old team? I would love to hear from you about this. You can leave a comment below, or connect with me on Twitter, Facebook and/or Google+. Don’t forget you can find more great sports coverage right now on http://allaroundtim.com!