CenterStage with Lou Piniella
Former Yankees outfielder, manager and general manager – and current YES Network special contributor Lou Piniella – is Michael Kay’s newest guest on CenterStage. During the interview, premiering on YES June 6 at 11 p.m., Piniella looks back at his confrontations with umpires, high school baseball and more.
Piniella gets creative arguing with umpire and still pays the price
I liked the umpires…they had fun with me…There were characters in the game [such as] Durwood Merrill]…[One time when] I am managing the Mariners, and [there was] this young guy on the mound named Bob Wilcox. And it’s the fifth inning of a ballgame and we have got a 5 to 2 lead. So now Durwood is squeezing him a little bit, and I am yelling at him from the dugout…Finally I go out to the mound, for only one purpose, to wait for Durwood to come out…So I tell…Durwood, “You are squeezing my guy. Where are those pitches at?” And he looks at me and he says, “Did you ever go to college?” I said, “I sure did.” He says, “Well, didn’t you learn in college that you don’t end a sentence with a preposition?”…I said, “Well, can I rephrase the question?”…He says, “You sure can.” I said, “Where were those pitches at, you no good (Expletive deleted)?”
Piniella’s mentor is Paul Straub, his basketball coach at Jesuit High School in Tampa
He was like a father figure to me…early in my life. He had gotten wounded, lost his legs... during the Korean War. In fact…he was an assistant coach at the University of Tampa. They would bring these recruits in, and Coach [Marcelino] Huerta would say, “You have gotta be really tough to play for the University of Tampa Spartans.” And he’d sell ‘em on this toughness thing and he’d get a dart and he’d shoot it and he’d hit Coach Straub in the leg with it and Coach would sit there [without budging].
How Piniella’s stubbornness resulted in his not playing baseball his senior year at Jesuit High School in Tampa
We had a coach over there, Coach Jack O’Connell. And he always wanted me to play football. Well, I used to play basketball, I used to play baseball…It’s hard to play all three. The basketball season was over—and we had three days to prepare for our (baseball) opener…so [Coach O’Connell] wanted me to pitch. And I said, “Look…My arm isn’t ready to pitch, I haven’t picked up a ball.” He says, “Well, if you don’t pitch, you are not playing.” Well, I didn’t play all year…I was hard headed and I was stupid. I would go to the ballgames and sit there and, and watch all my friends play, and I…was never…smart enough or humble enough to go in and say, “Coach, look, I made a mistake, let me get back on the team.”
Robin Roberts puts Piniella in his place after Piniella’s first and only major league at-bat during the 1964 season
[In] 1964 I think it was with the Orioles…I’ll tell you about [this] one at bat. We are in Anaheim, California, and Hank Bauer was the manager…He says, “Young man, grab a bat.” And I went to pinch hit for Robin Roberts. So on a 3 and 2 pitch, I grounded out to shortstop. I came back to the dugout and Robin Roberts says, “Young man, I could of done that.”…And that was my only at bat in the big leagues…that year.
Piniella on meeting his wife Anita—A former beauty queen and “Miss Tampa”
She complains to this day that on our first date, I took her to a Pizza Hut restaurant…I called her a couple of times and I asked her for a date and she tells me, “I am busy, I am sorry.” And finally the third time I called, I said, “I play professional baseball for a living. Three strikes and you’re out…You either want to date me or you don’t.” Well, we had that first date...we got married about six or seven months later...and we have been married for 45 years.
Why Piniella chose to manage the Seattle Mariners in 1992 over his wife’s objections
My wife wasn’t very happy. Woody [Woodward] (General Manager of the Seattle Mariners) had called me and…after I had left Cincinnati [I] said…“Woody, look, I got really no interest at all in…going across country to manage.” Well, I went down and talked to ‘em and took my wife…Anita…[And] as soon as we get back on the airplane, [she says] “Look, they are great people…but you are not gonna manage there.” And I said, “No, I am not.”…So anyway…the CEO of the team was a gentleman named John Ellis. And they kept calling me and I kept putting ‘em off. And finally John Ellis says, “The reason you don’t want to come here is because you don’t feel that you can do a good job here.” Now, that didn’t sit very well [with me]…So I signed a three year deal and I made him happy and my wife wasn’t very happy at all.
Which was harder for Piniella: retiring as a player or as a manager?
[It was hard to retire] as a manager…the reason being is that—you know that it’s over then… you are not gonna put the uniform on anymore. And as a player, you have got a chance to stay in coaching, you got a chance to manage…and you are younger. But…when you retire—and you are age 67 years old like I was…you know that it’s the last time you are gonna put on that major league uniform…I got emotional about it.
Piniella explains how he helped get Tino Martinez traded to the Yankees, but not for Jorge Posada
You know why [The Mariners] traded [Tino Martinez] to the Yankees, truthfully? Tino was gonna get traded to San Diego. And I know his family really, really well from Tampa…So I called Woody, our general manager, and I said, “Look, Woody, is there any chance that you could look at Tino and…talk to their general manager about trading him to…the Yankees?” And he said, “Well…we are pretty long along the way with San Diego.” And I said, “Well, take a look at him.” And he said, “By the way, [the Yankees] got a young catcher named [Jorge] Posada that we [the Mariners] really liked.”…Anyway…we traded Tino to the Yankees, we traded Jeff Nelson to the Yankees…and we got Sterling Hitchcock and Russ Davis—two really, really nice players—but no Posada.
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