By Ernesto Onofre
Lou Piniella, the only manager in franchise history to lead the Mariners to the postseason, retired from managing after the 2010 season. He spent 23 seasons managing in the Majors for five different teams, but his longest managerial stint was in Seattle, where he spent ten seasons (1993-2002) and led the M’s to four playoff berths, including three AL West titles. Piniella became the eighth member of the Mariners Hall of Fame when he was inducted on August 9th before a crowd of 40,122 at Safeco Field.
GRAND SALAMI: It must be quite an honor for you to be in the Mariners Hall of Fame.
LOU PINIELLA: I’m very honored and humbled to go into the Mariners Hall of Fame. It’s always thrilling for me to think about the memories we had here and the fun we had for ten years. It was a magical ten seasons for me and I have a lot of people to thank for my success. The players, the general managers, the trainers—you can’t have the success we had in Seattle without great people around you.
GS: You’re very much loved by the fans in Seattle.
PINIELLA: The fans in Seattle were so supportive and they played such an integral part in the success we had here. We led the Major Leagues in attendance a few years in Seattle and that speaks volumes. The fans in Seattle liked me and supported me and supported our team. It’s so much more fun when you go into a ballpark packed with people as opposed to the park being half empty. It’s so much more fun for the players and the competitive juices come out more.
GS: Can you talk about some of the great moments you had when you were managing in Seattle?
PINIELLA: There were lots of great moments. The playoff series against the Yankees in ’95 that helped get us a brand new stadium, Safeco Field. The many times we went to postseason. The 116-win season, which is tied for the most wins in Major League history. My biggest regret is that we didn’t get to a World Series. I enjoyed my ten years in Seattle. It was a wonderful experience, I got to make lots of friends, and got to enjoy the Pacific Northwest.
GS: You had some great players on your Seattle teams.
PINIELLA: We did have some great players on those teams. We had Junior, we had Randy Johnson. Edgar Martínez, Alex Rodríguez, Jay Buhner, Danny Wilson, Bret Boone, and Jamie Moyer. The teams we had worked hard and they were diligent in their approach to winning.
GS: Naturally, all of Seattle shares in your disappointment that the Mariners have never been to the World Series. It seemed like the best chance was in 2001, the 116-win season. What are the reasons why that great team, the best Mariners team ever, couldn’t get there despite having such incredible success in the regular season?
PINIELLA: 9/11 definitely wasn’t in our favor. When we flew to New York about a month after the tragedy there it seemed to take the wind out of our sails. And when you’re playing baseball as well as we were that year you don’t want to take a hiatus for a week. The Yankees were awfully good that year, they knew how to play and had great starting pitching. We just weren’t quite able to get by them in the postseason. You’ve got to be able to match up well in the postseason, but for the most part in that series we weren’t able to match up as well as we would have liked. 116 wins. The players played their hearts out and we just fell a little short. It was a magical season, but we didn’t get to the World Series. It didn’t help that we were extended to five games in the Division Series by Cleveland and we couldn’t set up our rotation the right way.
GS: Any other regrets about your time in Seattle, besides the lack of a World Series?
PINIELLA: I don’t have any other regrets about my time in Seattle. We did everything that we set out to do except get to the World Series, and I hope Lloyd [McClendon] and his group can get that done here in short order. I’m rooting for them.
GS: Edgar Martínez has not gotten very much support yet from Hall of Fame voters in his first few seasons of eligibility. Do you think he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame?
PINIELLA: I’ve said many times he does. He was the finest DH in the history of baseball. I don’t think you should detract from his vote total because he was a DH. It’s an integral part of an American League lineup. The DH usually hits in the middle of the lineup and that’s exactly where Edgar hit for us. He was the finest right-handed hitter I ever saw in the years that I played or managed. I think he does belong in the Hall of Fame and I hope he gets there.
GS: Another one of your Seattle players, Alex Rodríguez, has the numbers to make the Hall of Fame but probably won’t get in because of his involvement with steroids. Were you surprised when you heard A-Rod had done steroids?
PINIELLA: Any time I hear about players doing steroids it surprises me. I played in an era where there weren’t steroids and if there were there was very very very little of it. These days there seem to be a lot of players taking these things. Players make mistakes. Players are human beings and human beings make mistakes. When we got Alex in Seattle as an 18- or 19-year-old kid he had as much talent as anybody I’d ever seen. He won a batting title rather quickly, had some great seasons. I’ll tell you this—when he was in Seattle, this kid was doing it on natural ability. I don’t know what happened when he went to Texas and later on in his career. I don’t know what he was doing.
GS: You had a great playing career—you played 18 seasons in the Majors and had a career .291 average. You have the 14th-most wins among all big-league managers and you won a World Series managing Cincinnati in 1990. Don’t you think you deserve to be in the Hall of Fame?
PINIELLA: I think the credentials are there. I didn’t manage as many games as [2014 inductees] Tony [LaRussa], Bobby [Cox], and Joe [Torre], but I managed in a few more difficult places, which makes it tougher to win. Three years in Tampa Bay, with a $22 million payroll? In the American League East? You’re not gonna win too many games. I feel the credentials are there, but it’s not for me to say.
GS: You put on quite a show sometimes out on the diamond, arguing with umpires, throwing bases, kicking your hat. Was the primary purpose to be entertaining?
PINIELLA: That brings me back to when I first started managing. I finished playing in 1984 and was managing the Yankees in ’86, just two years later. So one day, Mr. Steinbrenner calls me into his office and he says, “Look, your number one job is to get me to the World Series and win it. But your second job—and it’s almost as important—is to help put some fannies in the seats.”
GS: So you really weren’t fighting with all those umpires, you were just putting on a show?
PINIELLA: I respected umpires and I had fun with them. Even though I got kicked out of some games, the next day I would say hello to them. There were no grudges as a far as I was concerned. Truthfully, I had a pretty good relationship with these guys—umpires at times enjoy a nice argument themselves. I guess they get bored just standing out there in the middle of the infield waiting to make calls.
GS: What do you think of the new replay rules put into place this year?
PINIELLA: I’m not really a fan of those. I like to see a manager, a coach, or even a player every once in a while put on a nice argument. The fans love it. Baseball is a sport, but it’s also a business and it’s also entertainment. I think having these replays detracts from the game.
GS: Now that you’re retired, how do you spend your time?
PINIELLA: I’m enjoying spending more time with my family. I signed my first professional contract in baseball when I was 18 and I didn’t retire from managing ’til I was 66. There’s a lot of time away from family; you give up a lot and your family suffers quite a bit. You’re gone a heck of a long time—two months for spring training, six moths for the season, and then the postseason. Then you’ve got GM meetings and winter meetings and so forth. You’re just not home very much. Now that I’ve retired, my wife is probably a little tired of me being around so much.
GS: Do you still watch a lot of baseball?
PINIELLA: I try to, but If I allow myself to get too deep into the game, then the competitive juices start flowing. And I can’t afford to kick the screen and have to buy a new TV every time I watch a game!