Will Piniella put Seattle in rearview mirror?

  • Larry Henry / Sports Columnist
  • Tuesday, October 17, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

He sounded like a man on the way out of town.

It was last Sunday, prior to Game 5 of the ALCS at Safeco Field.

Lou Piniella was responding to a question about what it has been like to manage in Seattle.

He pulled out all the glowing adjectives to describe his eight-year reign as the Mariner boss.

He said it’s been a “wonderful place to work,” described Seattle as a “great city.”

He praised the Mariner organization, the owners, the front office, the players.

He perceived that the team is “on the upswing” with the extra revenues from the new stadium.

Then he said something that sounded like an old manager about to fade away.

“I’ve had a lot of wonderful players here,” he said, “and a lot of good memories – great memories actually.”

When people speak of memories, they’re talking about the past.

Was this a hint that Seattle was about to become nothing but a memory for Piniella? That he has already made up his mind that he won’t be managing here next year?

He has said all along that he would wait until after the season, when his contract expires, to decide about the future. And during that same press conference Sunday he remarked, “We’ll just have to see what happens with my situation.”

The Mariners have said it’s up to Piniella whether he wants to come back. They can hardly say they don’t want him back after what the team has done in the playoffs – polishing off the Chicago White Sox, who had the best record in the American League, in three games in the division series and forcing the two-time defending World Champion New York Yankees to a sixth game in the ALCS.

Even with their elimination Tuesday night, the Mariners had a wonderful season, and it’s largely due to the players that General Manager Pat Gillick brought in and the job Piniella turned in. Both men have executed their duties extremely well.

There has been speculation that Gillick might want to bring in his own guy to run things on the field, and if the Mariners hadn’t made it into the playoffs, he would have had a legitimate reason to make a change. Now, forget it.

Piniella is a smart guy, has been around baseball long enough to know that a new general manager might want to hire one of his old cronies as field boss, just because he feels more comfortable with him. But Gillick’s hands are tied because of the job Piniella has done. Hence, Piniella, to make things easier on everyone, might just say “it’s been fun, but it’s time for me to move on.”

Then everyone could part on friendly terms. Gillick could hire his own manager and Piniella could look for another job. He will have no trouble finding one.

His resume is long and impressive: 14 years as a manager, a World Championship in Cincinnati, two division titles and three playoff teams in Seattle and 1,110 career wins.

He did his finest work with the Mariners. When he came here, Seattle was a football town, plain and simple. The Mariners were the laughingstock of baseball. They’d had one winning record in 16 seasons.

Mariner players didn’t talk about winning pennants, they talked about finishing .500. Piniella buried that kind of thinking at his first press conference. He said he was here to win championships.

That’s what players like Jay Buhner and Edgar Martinez wanted to hear. They were winning-type players and they were tired of turning in their equipment after the final regular-season game.

Piniella brought a hard, winner’s mentality that had been forged on the East Coast in a tradition-rich Yankee organization. He got immediate results, producing a winning team his first year.

His third year, he did something that some of us who had been watching Mariner teams since their inception thought would never happen: He got them into the playoffs.

More importantly, he saved baseball in Seattle. For with that miracle finish in 1995, a new ballpark was born.

Piniella can leave Seattle feeling good that he accomplished a lot. No, he didn’t win a World Championship, but he put the Mariners on the baseball map, he gained respect for the organization, he created a different attitude, on the team and in the city, and he stole the spotlight from the Seahawks, which many thought could never happen. His will be a hard act to follow, if, indeed, he does move on.

And the thinking here is that he will.

At one time, it seemed possible that he might consider taking a year off, just to rest. He looks and sounds like he could use it. But he said recently that by mid-November he is reinvigorated and looking forward to another season.

Where he might end up is anybody’s guess.

Cincinnati, where he won a World Championship in 1990, is said to be interested in him. That would re-unite him with Ken Griffey Jr.

One team that was mentioned in a New York newspaper last week was the Mets.

The New York Post speculated that current Mets manager Bobby Valentine would take over as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, opening the door for Piniella. What might scotch this scenario is that Valentine has his team in the World Series and the Mets can’t just let him walk away without making a strong pitch to retain him.

If he moves on, though, and Piniella gets the job, there was further speculation that Rodriguez might join his old manager on the Mets.

Before the Piniella-New York angle was ever broached, the Mets were mentioned as one of the few teams that could afford Rodriguez, who is expected to demand $20 million a year in his next contract. New York would also give him a large stage on which to perform and it would put him in the same city with his good buddy, Derek Jeter of the Yankees.

For Piniella, New York would be like coming home. The Post quoted a friend of Piniella’s as saying, “Lou wants to get back to the East Coast, he’s that kind of guy.”

Maybe Piniella feels it’s simply time to move on. And why not do it while he’s riding high? Before the “Lou’s” turn to “boos.”

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