Archive for the ‘Lou Piniella’ Category


Lou Piniella

March 7, 2011

According to the Gods: a 2011 Team-By-Team Preview

New York Yankees

There may have been a brief time when this card did not repulse me, depending on whether I came into possession of it before the 1976 brawl between the Red Sox and Yankees that began when Piniella plowed into Carlton Fisk at home plate. I started hating Lou Piniella as soon as I became aware of that brawl (via a Sports Illustrated article), and from that point whenever I had the misfortune of catching a glimpse of this card barely able to contain Lou Piniella’s big fat face, it wrenched my stomach into knots. Things only got worse, Piniella hitting a career high .330 in 1977 to help the Yankees to a narrow division win over the Red Sox (and a second pennant in a row, and a World Series title), then in 1978 topping the .300 mark again and performing heroics (more on this later) in the Yankees’ season-ending one-game playoff win over the Red Sox, which catapulted the Yankees to their third pennant and second World Series title in a row. The following year, the Yankees didn’t win, for the first time in what seemed like an eternity (years being much longer, clearer units of time in my childhood than the quick muffled arrhythmia produced by the passing years now), but the tendency of Lou Piniella to jam his big fat face into my life continued by way of Sparky Lyle’s description in the 1979 book The Bronx Zoo of Piniella’s nervous, constant habit of twirling a finger in his hair and then smelling his finger. I found the detail vaguely, intimately disturbing. It was more than I wanted to know. In fact, I would have been fine if my knowledge of Lou Piniella had stopped with what was available on this 1976 card, specifically the back of the card, which features a portrait in numbers of a pretty good hitter who had played for several second-division teams, including his current team, the Yankees, who hadn’t amounted to anything since long before I was born (so it seemed to me then). Piniella had hit just .196 with 0 home runs in his most recent year, and at age 31 entering the 1976 season these meager stats would seem to imply that Piniella would soon go away altogether and the Yankees would continue on indefinitely as also-rans.  

Instead, of course, the opposite occurred. In the Yankees’ 1970s dynasty, the most visible figure and self-appointed leader was Reggie Jackson, and the actual team leader was Thurman Munson, but Lou Piniella was, at least to me, the definitive Yankee. Consider his game-saving play in the bottom of the ninth of the one-game playoff in 1978. After a one-out single by Rick Burleson, Jerry Remy hit a fly to right that Piniella lost in the sun. Instead of panicking, he pretended that he was preparing to make a routine, nonchalant catch, then when the ball came down in front of him, he happened to be close enough to it to stick out his glove and snare it on one bounce. Burleson, fooled along with everyone into thinking that Piniella would make easy work of Remy’s fly ball, had stayed close to first and was only able to make it to second base, unable to score on the long fly out produced by the following batter, Jim Rice. The Bucky Dent home run from earlier in the game has always gotten far more attention as the pivotal moment in the game, but Piniella’s play was vital, too, and was more representative of the Yankees for its infuriating combination of smarts, skill, guts, and good luck (Dent’s improbable gust-lifted pop-up leaning much more heavily on the last of those elements).

It’s always a good sign to Yankee haters when the Yankees as an organization seem to be straying from the dynastic blueprint of augmenting their high-priced superstar players not with other high-priced superstars but with legions of Lou Piniella types. Of course, the superstar-choked Yankees won the World Series just a couple years ago after shoveling the biggest free agents on the market onto their already loaded roster, so who knows if the presence or lack thereof of “gritty” Scott Brosius types actually amounts to anything. I do know that it’s a bad sign in the context of using old baseball cards to predict the 2011 season that I randomly pulled from my shoebox the Lou Piniella card that always made me cringe, shudder, and then want to go punch something. You can sit around hoping that this won’t be true, but let’s face it: in 2011 the big fat face of the Yankees will be all up in your grill.


How to enjoy the 2011 baseball season, part 8 of 30: read Bronx Banter, where you can get thoughtful takes on what the Yankees are up to and also read about art, music, food, Doris from Rego Park, and whatever else piques the curiosity of Alex Belth and his fellow contributors   


2011 previews so far: St. Louis Cardinals; New York Mets; Philadelphia Phillies; Washington Nationals; Pittsburgh Pirates; Arizona Diamondbacks; Colorado Rockies


Lou Piniella

June 7, 2007

Tantrum 1:

I was a real tantrum-thrower as a kid. My most public tantrum came at the end of a little league game. We were playing the Twins, one of the two or three teams in the league we had a chance to beat, and were leading by three runs in the bottom of the last inning. They loaded the bases for their best hitter, a short, stocky kid named Tom Soule.

My mom was watching the game from the metal bleachers behind our dugout. I was playing third base. Tom Soule swung and sent the ball sailing.

 “It was such a nice moment watching little Tommy Soule bounce around the bases with a big smile on his face,” my mom told me afterward. “Then I look up and see you. Kicking your glove across the field. Swearing. Crying. It was awful.”

My punishment was going to be that I’d have to miss my next game, but no doubt because punishments were pretty foreign to my hippie-influenced family this never came to pass. I think Mom just had me stack firewood instead, which I would have had to do anyway. Usually when I stacked firewood there was a Red Sox game on the radio, so it was actually a decent way to pass the time.

Tantrum 2:

My most elaborate tantrum also was little-league related. In Vermont, winter never ends. This is how it feels when you’re an 11-year-old kid getting angrier and angrier as each new April snowstorm cancels another stab by your team to have their first practice. Finally when yet another sleet- and snowstorm cancelled practice I decided that the only thing there was to do was go try to get in a fistfight with the weather. I put on a thin windbreaker over a T-shirt—probably what I’d been planning to wear to practice—and set out into the howling storm. Having already watched too much television in my life, I imagined with some intensity the following scene centering on my departure: as I was about to exit the house some parental figure would ask me where I was going.

Out,” I planned to say, toughly, before opening the door and slamming it behind me.

But nobody asked me anything, or even noticed I was about to go Ahab it up a little against the northern New England squall, so I just left. I ended up walking 8 miles in my sneakers through sleet and snow, all the way up the winding dirt road from East Randolph to Randolph Center. My friend Glenn lived in Randolph Center, so I went there and called home. My grandfather, who happened to be visiting, came and picked me up, unsure what to make of me.

“Damnedest thing I’ve ever seen,” he murmured.

By then my anger had kind of receded behind the encroaching hypothermia.

Tantrum 3:

Just yesterday, in my cubicle, I was having great difficulty figuring out how to change the color of the text in these tiny text boxes we use to signal edits in a PDF document. This is the kind of thing that really gets to me these days, the conundrums that make me feel like I’m a stranger in a strange land, and that it’s only going to get worse as I get older and less able to adapt to the constant technological “upgrades” all around me. I hate upgrades. I loathe them. Soon death itself will be referred to as an upgrade, for isn’t an upgrade a wiping away of one world in favor of a whole new world with no memory of the old? Anyway, that’s not really what gets me wound up in those moments. It’s the feeling of helplessness and stupidity. So instead of calmly trying to figure out a solution to a problem, I throw a quiet masochistic tantrum.

So yesterday if you happened to be in my sector of the corporate headquarters where my name hangs on a cubicle you would have seen a 39-year-old man pulling his hair and punching himself in the head. Well, you probably wouldn’t have seen this, because whenever I am about to deliver blows to my head I take a quick look to see that no one is within witnessing range of my cubicle. But maybe there are hidden security cameras.