Piniella's run with Seattle unmatched in career
Former skipper who sought challenges honored at Winter Meetings
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When Lou Piniella looks back at his 23-year managerial career, he says he has no regrets. But one thing he might rethink, given a mulligan, would be seeking greener pastures elsewhere after posting the highest winning percentage and winning more games in Seattle than anywhere else.
Piniella claimed a World Series title with the Reds and gained a lot of fame with the Yankees, but his decade-long record of 840-711 in Seattle was the best run of success for the man who was honored Tuesday at the Winter Meetings, along with three other retiring legends in Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and Cito Gaston.
"I didn't take plum jobs to win a championship. I took jobs for the different challenges they brought," Piniella said. "I really did. I enjoy challenges. When I went to Seattle and they'd never had a .500 season, and we won and had such success over there, I think I got a little smart and said, 'Well, I can win anywhere.' And I found out that wasn't the case.
"The game of baseball will humiliate you, and rightfully so, very, very quickly. But I've enjoyed everywhere I've been. I've got nothing but really good memories."
Piniella, 67, said he's definitely done with managing after stepping down from the Chicago Cubs late in the season last year. His 1,835 career wins rank 14th all-time in Major League history.
Piniella said he's been riding a bicycle, taking 25-mile trips with friends, and enjoying his time since calling it quits.
"Right now I'm just enjoying what I'm doing, which is nothing," he said with a chuckle.
Piniella was shaken by the recent death of Mariners broadcaster Dave Niehaus, which was the first thing he brought up Tuesday when seeing a reporter from Seattle.
"First of all, he's a Hall of Fame announcer and really, really made games enjoyable for so many people for so long in Seattle," Piniella said. "He was just a good human being. He had a great sense of humor and was a good friend. We'd go to dinner and he'd enjoy a nice glass of wine and telling a good story.
"He was an institution in Seattle for all those years. He brought so much joy and pleasure into living rooms all over the Pacific Northwest. He was put in the Hall of Fame, where he rightfully belongs. It was sad to see he passed away, and I'll tell you what -- his legacy will live on forever there."
So will Piniella's, as the popular skipper turned around the culture of Mariners baseball. After taking over a franchise that had just one winning season in its first 16 years, Piniella managed seven winners in 10 years, including the record-setting 116-win campaign in 2001.
His last four years in Seattle, he worked with general manager Pat Gillick, who was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Monday.
"The guy is good at what he does, that's obvious," Piniella said. "We had a good relationship. He's all business. He loves the game of baseball, has a tremendous passion for it and had a really, really good skill of putting things together. We won quite a few ballgames over there in Seattle together."
As for Piniella, he noted proudly that he'd only been fired once in his career, in 1988. And on that occasion, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner wound up offering him a three-year contract extension before he left the office.
Steinbrenner also inspired him to his legendary temper tantrums with umpires.
"My first year managing in '86, we were in first place about 2 1/2 months in the season," Piniella recalled. "And Mr. Steinbrenner called me into his office and said, 'Look, there's a little more to managing than just winning baseball games. You've got to put some fannies in the seats.' He said, 'When you go out there and get kicked out of a ballgame, put on a nice show.' Well, I took it to heart."
Piniella wore his emotions on his baseball sleeve for 17 seasons as a big leaguer and 23 as a manager, but insists he truly is ready to move on. He's in the process of moving into a new house in Tampa and trying to cope with his wife's "honey-do" list.
"I said when I went to Chicago, it would be my last job and it will be. That's it," he said. "I've done it long enough and it's time to move on and do other things.
"I played until I was 41, but not once after I retired did I want to go back up there and hit a baseball again in a game situation. That part of my life was done. Now that I've done this for the time I have, my time is gone. Let these young kids come up and hopefully a lot will have a long successful career like the gentlemen up there today."