Whenever Lou Piniella is around, things tend to get a bit dusty. And sometimes that dust can get into your eyes. But this Saturday at Safeco Field, when Piniella is officially inducted into the Mariners Hall of Fame, any tears at Safeco won’t be from the dirt that he’s kicked around.
Well, probably not anyway.
Sweet Lou wasn’t just a winner in Seattle; he was the winner. In the team’s 37 year history, Piniella remains the only manager with a winning record (excluding Lloyd McClendon’s current playoff push, of course).
Piniella’s record with Seattle was 840-711. During his time as manager from 1993-2002, the Mariners won the AL West three times and made the playoff four times. Twice Piniella was awarded the AL Manager of the Year award. His most memorable season was the record-tying 116-win season in 2001.
Many of the Mariners household names show up during his tenure. Every player already in the Mariners Hall of Fame, besides Alvin Davis, played the majority of their years as a Mariner under Piniella.
But on-field success is only part of the reason why Seattle fans love Sweet Lou. The thing to love about Piniella was his charming and polite disposition when dealing with umpires.
Though Piniella only ranks 11th all-time on the manager ejections list with 63, the ejections he notched are among the most animated and memorable in history.
While I would love to show you his top meltdowns in video form, you’ll have to live with just his first ejection as Mariners manager because the MLB hates YouTube (get with the times, Selig).
The ejection starts at the 6:45 mark, but feel free to watch Orioles and Mariners brawl beforehand:
This classic Piniella ejection, while only the first of many with the M’s, features a couple of Piniella’s staples - from the trademark hat slam and the kicking of dirt over home plate to the dirt on the umpires’ shoes and the throwing of a base (usually first).
Piniella was also great at generating quotes during and after his tantrums. The Seattle Times listed a few memorable selections from his years in Seattle:
Aug. 26, 1998: Piniella kicks his hat a half-dozen times at Jacobs Field after a disputed call by umpire Larry Barnett. He finally threw his cap in the stands and it was thrown back at him. Barnett said Piniella was ejected for pointing to the ground, showing him up. “Am I supposed to point to the sky?” Piniella asked. “Is my guy running in the sky? Is the runner Luke Skywalker or what? All the frustrations of a long year came pouring out. I don’t blame anyone for laughing. Everyone likes to see someone make a fool of themselves in front of 40,000 people.”
July 25, 1999: Piniella tosses his cap in the Metrodome to protest a call by umpire Durwood Merrill. Piniella tried to rip out the third-base bag to throw it, but couldn’t dislodge it. “My back has been bothering me, so I didn’t try too hard,” he said. But he threw seven bats on the field as he left.
Piniella’s last ejection as the Mariners manager came with all the flair you’d have expected, according to ESPN:
The 59-year-old Piniella threw his hat, kicked his hat, kicked the infield dirt, picked up first base and heaved it down the right-field line twice, and bench coach John McLaren restrained him from getting to C.B. Bucknor. The umpire ejected Piniella, and Safeco Field fans chanted “Lou, Lou, Lou.’’
Once again, Piniella had a fantastic quote after his ejection:
Sept. 18, 2002: Piniella kicked his hat around and picked up first base and threw it twice after a close “out” call at first by umpire C.B. Bucknor. “Then the guy (Bucknor) had the nerve to have a smirk on his face like he knew what he was doing,” Piniella said. “That was what got me angry, the smirk. I go out to argue and he’s got a smirk, and I’m the one who gets penalized. ... I don’t know about any eruption, but I hurt my hamstring and my right shoulder.”
When Piniella officially joins the Mariners Hall of Fame this weekend, Seattle will be paying their respect for everything he brought to the team - the wins, the tirades, the players he helped develop, and the fan base he helped build in Seattle. Sadly, Mariners fans have been waiting 12 years for their next Sweet Lou, and they’ll probably never get the tantrums back. But maybe, some day soon, the wins will return.
Still, it would be nice to see one last hat kick on Saturday just for the fans.