Mariners should reward Piniella

  • Larry Henry / Sports Columnist
  • Thursday, September 28, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

SEATTLE – They criticize his strategy. They knock him for the way he handles pitchers. They complain about his 10-second sound bites on radio and TV.

And Lou Piniella shrugs his shoulders and says he understands. He really does.

“If you have a football coach in town, a basketball coach in town and a baseball manager in town, the baseball manager is going to be scrutinized more than anybody else because this business lends itself to that type of thinking,” the Mariner skipper says. “Everybody’s a manager. Everybody knows what needs to be done or thinks they know what should be done or not be done.”

Piniella is standing behind the cage during batting practice before the final home game of the regular season. Salt and pepper whiskers cover his face.

He looks tired. He sounds tired. He is tired.

“You talk to any major league manager the last week of September,” he says, “and they’re all going to be tired.”

The Mariners had a rare day off this week.

So what’d Piniella do? Play a round of golf? Go to the mall and shop? Stay home and watch TV?

He spent the day thinking about the next game.

“It’s tiring,” he admits, “just thinking about the ballgame and the different scenarios.”

Baseball dominates his life during the season. Even in moments of leisure, he can’t divorce himself from the game.

He does find time to open one book now and then.

“The only thing I read, believe it or not, are a couple of passages of scripture and that puts me at ease,” he says. “Outside of that, I watch the stock market a little bit or if I’m on the road, I go shopping.”

Lou Piniella has been a good manager for the Mariner franchise. Under him, the team won its only two division titles and it leads the race for a third.

Seattle is indebted to him. He saved baseball in this town.

His contract runs out after this season. A story out of Toronto this week had him being replaced by Boston manager Jimy Williams. Seattle general manager Pat Gillick says there is no truth to it.

Let’s hope not. The M’s should reward Piniella with about a five-year contract. Let him finish his career here.

Guys like playing for Piniella because he keeps things simple. Just show up on time and play hard.

“Like I tell them, you’re going to get paid whether we win the division or not,” he says. “Your family’s going to love you whether we win the division or not. You’re going to have a job next year. So just go out and play hard and enjoy it and have fun and let your natural ability take over and if you can look in the mirror at the end of the season and say ‘I did everything I could,’ nobody’s going to have any complaints, including myself.”

In 14 years of managing, Piniella feels as if he’s never had a team that dogged it. That is one thing, he emphasizes, he wouldn’t tolerate.

The current team has given him as much pleasure as perhaps any club he’s managed because of its effort. “It’s a fun group,” he says. “They play hard, they play to win, and we’ve really had to utilize our whole roster to get where we are.”

He’s done a good job of making sure the veteran players aren’t over-used, that they get their days off so they can come back fresh. Jay Buhner, the 36-year-old right fielder, who has been plagued by injuries the last two years, is having a solid season and he credits the way Piniella has used him as a big part of the reason.

Another veteran, Mark McLemore, likes playing for Piniella because he creates a relaxed atmosphere in the clubhouse. “He’s not looking over your shoulder all the time,” he says. “Just play the game.”

As manager, Piniella is the point man for the team. He’s the one out there in front of the media every day, from the start of spring training in mid-February until the end of the season in September or, if the Mariners get deep into the playoffs, in mid-to-late October.

He has microphones and tape recorders thrust in front of him every day, before and after games, and there are nights when he’d just as soon lock himself in his office after a loss and brood over what happened. And there are times he will do just that. But they are few and far between. When the media calls, he must respond.

He has learned to deal with the media by trial and error and admits he wasn’t really good at it initially. “When I started managing, I’d snap back (at reporters),” he says. “Now I roll with the punches more than before. I used to be a little feisty. If you’ve got a good humor about yourself or some bull—, it makes it a lot easier.”

The season is a grind that wears at a manager mentally, emotionally and sometimes physically. Piniella’s been lucky. He’s never had an ulcer, he doesn’t have high blood pressure and he’s got good genes on his side (both parents are still alive, in their early 80s.)

He may be worn out by the end of the season, but he’s recharged by mid-November and looking forward to another spring training.

He turned 57 in August and wants to manage four or five more years. He has 1,108 wins and would like to get 1,500 before he retires.

It would be nice if he could get them with the M’s.

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