SEATTLE – Lou Piniella had to stop, collect himself and fight back tears.
It was not the type of emotion Seattle Mariners fans got accustomed to seeing from the fiery Piniella during his 10 seasons managing the club.
“I hope I don’t get too emotional,” Piniella said as he fought back tears Friday afternoon during a luncheon honoring his induction into the Mariners hall of fame.
The Tampa native and former Devil Rays manager will become the eighth person to be honored by the club and the first manager inducted. The festivities started with a luncheon on the grass at Safeco Field on Friday afternoon and will conclude with the ceremony before Saturday night’s game.
The traits most commonly associated with Piniella were competitiveness and a fiery personality. Whether it was throwing bases or arguing with umpires, Piniella brought an attitude to the Mariners that bred the most success the organization has ever enjoyed.
“What he did here was just tremendous and don’t think I don’t think about that every day I put this uniform on,” current Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said. “I don’t want to embarrass him. I want to make him proud. He laid a tremendous foundation and hopefully we can get it back to where he had it and that would be pretty good.”
His stint in Seattle was the longest tenure of Piniella’s managerial career. He won 840 regular-season games with the Mariners, including 116 during the 2001 season when the Mariners matched the major league record. They fell in the American League Championship Series that season.
Piniella reiterated that his one regret from his time in Seattle was not getting the club to a World Series, although the only four postseason appearances in franchise history came with Piniella in charge. He said Saturday night’s ceremony will be difficult to get through.
“It’s going to be hard for me because these fans have been so wonderful. They were so supportive and they played such a big integral part in the success that we had there. We led the major leagues in attendance here a few years. That’s in Seattle. That speaks volumes,” Piniella said. “I was fortunate they liked me and they supported me and supported our team and it’s so much more fun when you go into a ballpark that is packed with people as opposed to half empty.”
Piniella came to Seattle with the task of providing guidance to a young, but talented team. He inherited a squad that included Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez and Jay Buhner still in the early stages of their careers when Piniella arrived in 1993. That group eventually won two division titles and helped save baseball in the Pacific Northwest with their stirring rally in the final weeks to win the AL West in 1995 and reach the ALCS.
Martinez, Buhner and catcher Dan Wilson were all sitting at the head table with Piniella on Friday.
“He was the perfect fit for those young players,” said Woody Woodward, the general manager who hired Piniella.
The tears came as Piniella was about halfway through his speech. He tried to thank everyone he worked with in Seattle, from the players, to the general managers and even the traveling secretaries.
“When they hire you to manage a baseball team these organizations place a lot of trust in you. You’ve got a lot of responsibility,” Piniella said. “It’s not easy to manage a major league team if you want to do it the right way. You have to work at it and be prepared. ... I had a lot of fun here, I really did.”