Lou Piniella: Clubhouse Leader -- Not-So-Sweet Lou -- Manager's Fire And Toughness Burn Opponents, Add Edge To Mariners
"If we're tough, it's because Lou's tough. Everything he does in the clubhouse, in the dugout, is reflected on our team." - Edgar Martinez
In the first inning Saturday night, Yankee pitcher Scott Kamieniecki dropped Joey Cora with a high note of chin music.
On the Seattle bench, an angry Lou Piniella stood and stomped to where pitcher Chris Bosio sat. He said something unheard outside the dugout, but unmistakable.
As he went back to his own seat, Piniella looked over at his old team and yelled, "You're going down and when you do, remember, I ordered it!"
It was the last time one of Piniella's players was knocked down with a pitch that night. Maybe it was the warnings umpires gave both teams. Maybe it was the five minutes the umpires spent with Piniella and then with Bosio, a big believer in defending one's mates.
Or maybe it was Piniella's rage.
When the incident was raised in a quiet post-game moment, Piniella just shrugged. And grinned. "All part of the game," he said. "You do whatever it takes."
Piniella is a master in the contest of mental toughness, on which many games and series turn and at which Seattle has become expert. But he prefers to play down his role.
"All I do is make out the lineup card and let the kids play," Piniella says over and over, more often now with more media types asking his role in the story of the Amazin' M's.
Woody Woodward, Seattle's general manager, smiles at such
stories. "Why," he asks, "do you think one of the first requests from ownership I made after I took over the baseball operation in Seattle was to go after Lou?"
In the winter of 1989, Yankee owner George Steinbrenner had fired Piniella as his manager. Woodward was looking for a manager and wound up with Jim Lefebvre, whose timid, by-the-book style is the opposite of Piniella's hunch-by-the-bunch aggression.
"Lou had other business commitments on the East Coast," Woodward said, still rueful of the miss that cost the Mariner organization three or four years of development.
"You'll notice that Lou doesn't like softness," Woodward said. "That's why we've moved so many younger players. Lou understands the difference between inexperience and softness. You can be young and tough, so you'll grow and show improvement from the usual rough starts young players have. We had kids who did not develop. Lou wanted them gone. We moved them."
What is left is a much more expensive team. But there is nary a soul in sight complaining about expense this week or this past month.
"We have simply tried to give Lou what he has asked for," Woodward said. "He asked for better players, winning-type players. But the style of game we now play, aggressive, jumping on mistakes, goes directly back to Lou."
Piniella recently has expressed awe of what his team has wrought.
"I've never experienced a series like the one we had against the Yankees," he said Sunday when it was over, the fourth five-game-series comeback from 0-2 in baseball history. "These kids believe in themselves."
"We believe," said outfielder Jay Buhner, known for quickly getting to the core of a matter, "in Lou."
Beyond the belief, there is talent in the Seattle clubhouse: Ken Griffey Jr., Buhner, the Martinez Non-Bros., Edgar and Tino; Randy Johnson. But there is added flexibility from the bench and speed and bullpen depth, all at Piniella's behest and Woodward's direction.
There is loyalty, both ways. The Mariners got caught a bit shy of pitching in the Yankee series because Piniella wanted to bring the players who had brought Seattle through the summer. Piniella is a strong believer in chemistry's part in Seattle's success - why else would senior infielder Felix Fermin play ahead of Alex Rodriguez? Why else would struggling Mike Blowers stay in the lineup through the Yankee series?
"I've never seen chemistry like there is on this club," said Piniella, who works it like a forester maintaining ecological balance.
The Mariners also feature emotion and fire, drawn from a toughened team by a tough manager, who has enough security to confess his doubts.
Why, for instance, did he wait to pinch-run for Tino Martinez on second base with two outs in the eighth Sunday until Yankee pitcher David Cone had thrown a pitch to pinch-hitter Alex Diaz?
"I had the guy, but I started to think maybe I didn't want to take Tino out of the lineup," Piniella said. "But then I figured if we didn't score on a single . . . I thought and thought and then Cone had thrown a pitch, then I did it."
Diaz walked and pinch-hitter Doug Strange walked and Rodriguez strolled in with the 4-4 run.
Why, for instance, did he have Blowers bunt once with the leadoff man on base Saturday night; then not bunt in the same situation later? "The coin came up heads the first time," Piniella smiled. "The second time . . . tails."
It is largely a poke-fun cover from a man whose mind is constantly on the game, and tomorrow's game and the game beyond that.
As of two hours after Sunday's clincher he had no set rotation for Game 1 or 2 of the Cleveland series. "I'll think about it later tonight," Piniella said. "No, I'll enjoy tonight and think on it tomorrow."
Piniella added: "We might pitch Bob Wells, then (Tim) Belcher in Game 2. Bosio's available, too."
Bosio wanted to know late Sunday, when and if he'd be starting. "I can't tell you yet, Chris," Piniella said. "I don't know yet."
Yesterday morning he still had not said, and the Indians wanted to know before they got on a plane to fly here. Mariner officials who took a series of calls from Cleveland officials could tell them nothing and the Indians were not pleased.
Chances are, this news will not worry Lou Piniella.
Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.