Sweet! Lou stays

  • KIRBY ARNOLD / Herald Writer
  • Tuesday, October 31, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

Piniella accepts 3-year deal to remain Mariners manager

By KIRBY ARNOLD

Herald Writer

SEATTLE — Lou Piniella didn’t need an offer from another team to know where the smart money is.

Piniella decided Tuesday to accept the Seattle Mariners’ three-year contract and remain as manager of a team that came within two victories of reaching the World Series this year.

"Signing Lou was one of our top priorities, without question," said team CEO Howard Lincoln. "He’s one of the best managers in baseball. Lou has helped us in the current success we’ve achieved. We’re trying for more in 2001."

Financial terms weren’t announced, but it’s believed the Mariners will pay Piniella about $6.5 million over three years. Earlier reports of a $7 million deal were not correct, Mariners assistant general manager Lee Pelekoudas said.

The most important element of the signing, in the Mariners’ minds, is that Piniella becomes the first piece in building a championship team. Piniella, 57, has managed the Mariners to two division championships and three playoff appearances in the last five seasons.

The announcement came a day after Piniella’s agent, Alan Nero, had spoken with the Cincinnati Reds about their managing vacancy. Reds general manager Jim Bowden made it clear that Piniella, who managed that team from 1990-92, was their first choice.

The Reds, an organization known to spend its money with great consternation, never made an offer and Piniella decided not to wait for one. He decided to jump at a salary that the Mariners sweetened from their original offer of last Wednesday.

"They could have offered me a ton of money or nothing at all," Piniella said of the Reds. "I guess we’ll never know."

When the time came to decide where to spend the final years of his baseball career, Piniella said his heart led him in one direction: the Mariners.

"When it comes down to making a decision, your heart starts speaking to you," he said. "I had said this would be a financial decision, but truthfully it didn’t turn out to be that. They’re paying me well, and I appreciate that. But I’ve been here eight years and we’ve had success. This organization intends on staying competitive."

Both Piniella and Gillick said the club will make a serious run at signing free agent shortstop Alex Rodriguez, who could demand at least $20 million per year, and solidify the few other weaknesses on this year’s team.

"Our ownership group has stated many times that their interest is not to make money," Piniella said. "Their interest is to put a good product on the field and to break even if possible. They just don’t want a one-year bubble. What they’d like to do is get this thing on solid ground for many years to come. With Pat in charge, I think that’s what this organization is going to do."

Mariners pitching coach Bryan Price said he spoke to the front office in Piniella’s behalf to let them know of Piniella’s importance in the clubhouse. Price said he has seen few people in his 17 years as a pro player and coach who can affect a team as positively as Piniella.

"Lou is the type of guy you want to give 100 percent for, and then you want to find another percent to give him," Price said. "It’s not through intimidation. His personality is such that you want to give him everything you can. It’s a very unique quality, and I think it affects the entire team."

Piniella’s coaches from the 2000 season remain unsigned, but he and Gillick had nothing but praise for all of them. Gillick cited the team’s success despite injuries to Freddy Garcia, Jamie Moyer, Gil Meche and Rodriguez.

"Lou and his staff did a great job leading our club," Gillick said. "They really were the glue that held this thing together."

While flattered, Price said the partnership that deserves the most credit is Piniella and Gillick.

"Pat showed the ability to get quality players on this team and Lou did a great job utilizing his entire roster," Price said. "It’s important to have both of them together because they work so well together."

The Reds were the only team with a managing vacancy that worried Price, whose future seemed uncertain had Piniella not returned.

"I thought Cincinnati was the one viable alternative," Price said. "I didn’t think Lou wanted to go to a team that would be a four-year rehabilitation situation. I thought Cincinnati was a team that will be competitive, but I think even more so of Seattle. I’m really glad he made the decision."

The entire "Seattle package," as Piniella called it, was a lucrative carrot that outweighed other factors that tugged at him, such as money and a desire to work closer to his winter home in Tampa, Fla.

"The Mariners have been my home for eight years," he said. "It’s a wonderful organization with a great ownership group and an outstanding front office. The fans, the city, the ballpark. It’s just a darned good package. I’ve been blessed."

Piniella had previously voiced a concern that Seattle’s location was too far from Tampa and would be a hardship on his wife, Anita.

"We had talked about this situation for a while," he said. "It’s harder on her than anybody else because of the distance. She gave me her full support."

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