"Sweet" Lou Piniella Meets "Dynamic" Don Wakamatsu

Former Mariner manager Lou Piniella is not sweet. That nickname has stuck to him for ironic purposes, much as you might call a tall man “Tiny,” a stout man “Slim,” or the 2010 Mariners “good.”

Piniella had physical fights with his players, famously threw first base in protest of an umpire’s call (which made ESPN’s list of top ten coach meltdowns), and is still kicking dirt on umpires (YouTube). As a manager he was oft criticized for his “failure to develop young players,” due to his propensity to “scream at them lots.”

Piniella, whose Chicago Cubs are in town for a three-game series beginning today, is also the only successful manager the Mariners franchise has ever had. And the last interesting one. Perhaps in revolt against Piniella’s dominating persona, every Mariner manager team president Chuck Armstrong has hired since has lacked personality, culminating in the hiring of “Dynamic” Don Wakamatsu. Wakamatsu’s managerial style has more in common with a corporate middle manager than with Piniella’s Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross methods.

Wakamatsu bases his decisions on what he calls “belief systems,” which represent his trust in his players’ abilities. Not sure whether anyone has asked Piniella what he thinks of “belief systems,” but I believe his response would begin with “horse” and end with “shit.”

Piniella’s belief system is this: If you play well, you keep playing. If you stink, you sit. That belief system won the Mariners three division titles and granted four playoff appearances, the only ones in franchise history. Piniella, who managed the team from 1993-2002, remains the only M’s manager with a career record over .500. Sweet Lou shared that distinction with Wakamatsu this offseason, but 2010 has not been kind to Dynamic Don’s legacy.

The Cubs are not doing much for Piniella’s legacy. After leading them to divisional titles his first two seasons as manager, Piniella’s Cubs missed the playoffs in ’09. They limp into Seattle 7 games back in the NL Central, and 7 games under .500. It’s likely that a sub-.500 finish would doom Piniella in Chicago. As he’ll be 67 in August, hard to imagine him catching on with another team. So it’s possible this is Mariner fans’ last chance to pay tribute to Piniella, at least as an active manager. I suspect a long, loud, “Loooooouuuuuu” will be heard at Safeco tonight.

You can buy that 1994 Mariners Magazine for $5 at Gasoline Alley Antiques.

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