Story Time With Lou Piniella | Ichiro

Ichiro is one of the most recognizable names in Seattle sports history. The star outfielder spent more than 11 seasons with the Seattle Mariners, setting the Major League Baseball single-season hits record, playing in ten All-Star Games, winning the American League Most Valuable Player and becoming loved all around the world. Before Ichiro could accomplish any of that though, he first needed to earn the respect of Mariners manager Lou Piniella.

Welcome to the third and final installment of Story Time with Lou Piniella. In the first installment, Piniella shared his hilarious meeting with New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. In the second installment, “Sweet Lou” talked about one of his most memorable ejections, and now Piniella’s shares a funny story about his first spring training with Ichiro:

Lou Piniella and Ichiro Suzuki

Lou Piniella and Ichiro
Courtesy: NYDailyNews.com

Ichiro came to the Seattle Mariners in 2001 after a nine-year career with the Orix Blue Wave in Japan. He was the first Japanese position player in the big leagues, and he came to America as one of the most hyped rookies ever. I actually saw Ichiro during his first Spring Training with the M’s. I don’t remember who the Mariners were playing that day, but Ichiro swatted a ball into the gap. I can still see Ichiro blazing around the bases with his long stride and incredible speed. I was instantly sold on Ichiro from that moment on. Lou Piniella was a little harder to impress.

Piniella says Ichiro wasn’t pulling the ball at all when Spring Training started. He was just hitting the ball to left field over and over again. Opponents were on to Ichiro by the fourth or fifth game of the spring. Piniella says the left fielder started playing down the line and the third baseman was so far over “he was almost shaking hands with the third base coach.”

To mix things up, Piniella called Ichiro’s interpreter over and asked if he could have Ichiro pull the ball. Piniella says he wanted to “check his bat speed a little bit.” So, the interpreter walked over to Ichiro, they huddled for a while and both nodded to Piniella after their conversation.

Two innings later, Ichiro led off for the Mariners. On the very first pitch of his at-bat, Ichiro smacked the ball into the right field bullpen for a home run. Piniella says, “He rounds the bases, comes over to me, shakes my hand and says, ‘Are you happy now?’”

Ichiro went on to win the American League Rookie of the Year, MVP and batting title that season. He hit .350 with eight home runs and 69 runs batted in, while also stealing a league-leading 56 bases and winning a Gold Glove for his play in right field that year. Ichiro was an instant superstar, exceeding all of his lofty expectations. Aside from his individual accolades, Ichiro was also one of the main reasons the Mariners tied the Major League record with 116 wins in 2001.

Lou Piniella and Ichiro

Lou Piniella and Ichiro at the reunion of 2001 team

Piniella only spent the 2001 and 2002 seasons with Ichiro in Seattle, but that was more than enough time to make an impact on “Sweet Lou”. Piniella has since told MLB.com that Ichiro should be in the Hall of Fame:

“He is one of the greatest leadoff hitters in the history of the major leagues,” Piniella said. ”He’s a great hitter, a great base runner, a great fielder with a great arm, a game breaker. All of those qualities add up to me as a Hall of Fame player.”

If Ichiro makes it to the Hall of Fame (he has to retire first), Piniella will more than likely meet him there. “Sweet Lou” has 1,835 career wins as a manager, ranking 14th in Major League Baseball history. 18 managers with fewer wins than Piniella have been enshrined in the hall, so it’s only a matter of time before Piniella gets his call to Cooperstown. There’s no doubt he deserves it.

What’s your favorite memory of Ichiro or Lou Piniella? I would love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below or connect with me on Faceook, Twitter and Google+. You can also find me on Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube. Don’t forget to also check out more from the world of sports right now on http://allaroundtim.com!

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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!

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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!

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