If you haven’t heard already, Lou Piniella retired from baseball today. He had planned on stepping down after the season but, because of his mom’s health problems, he retired after the Cubs game today. Being the youngest of the writers here, I’m probably the least qualified to write a post about him but it felt right to write something about it. Maybe another one of the guys will give you a memory or two sometime.
Why does it feel right to write about Lou? It’s not like it’s affecting any of my teams. Well, I think Piniella holds at least a little bit of a spot in most Mariner fans hearts. He was here for the best years our baseball team gave us. No, it wasn’t all because of him that the Mariners went to the playoffs four times in his tenure but he was certainly a large part of it.
Again, I don’t remember a ton about Lou. I was 13 when he left the Mariners and no one can be a very knowledgeable fan at that age. But, if I had to pick one thing that Lou taught me about baseball it would be that baseball is entertainment. It’s an easy concept but one that people simply forget until they see a team, like this years Mariners, that is boring beyond belief. What happens when a baseball game bores you on TV? Most people simply just turn it off. Baseball takes patience because it doesn’t yield as many “Did you see that?!” plays as football or basketball does. There’s a reason fans ‘oooh and awww’ over a pitcher throwing a fastball high and tight to a guy. Rarely does that pitch hit the guy, but it’s sometime the most breathtaking and startling moment in a baseball game. Now, I’m not saying that baseball bores me, it doesn’t, but it’s not exactly fast-paced.
There are a few ways to bring excitement to baseball games:
- Have a good team. It’s so obvious but unfortunately, since we’re Mariner fans, we don’t know it. Boston and New York sell out their stadium night after night because those games are exciting. Those teams are good and people like to watch them.
- Create a fun atmosphere. This is what the Mariners ownership try to make the Safeco field experience. They don’t always spend the money or make the right decisions to have a good team so they buy into the family-fun atmosphere that Safeco has. This partially fills the stadium with so-called ‘fans’ who don’t know a thing about the team and think that Ichiro is overrated. If you couldn’t tell, this bothers me a little bit. But, it is inevitable to some degree. Even Boston and New York have those fans (as you can tell whenever those teams come to Seattle). Those fans make team money. They come to the stadium to enjoy the atmosphere and have a good time. There’s nothing wrong with that, those people can be somewhat annoying though.
- The last form of excitement comes from the guys on the field and doesn’t have to do with being a good or bad team. It’s the factor of the players and coaches knowing that they’re entertainers. Sure, professional athletes first job is to help their team win but once you get past that they have a role to entertain the fans. This can be taken overboard. Look to Terrell Owens, Ozzie Guillen, Chad Ochocinco, or Milton Bradley for examples of that (for the record I like Chad Ochocinco and Milton). But, if athletes and coaches don’t go overboard they become favorites. Tiger Woods fist pump became legendary because it was entertaining and went along with him being successful. Michael Jordan sticking out his tongue was interesting and entertaining so it became a regularity in pick-up basketball games everywhere. There are signs of entertainment everywhere in sports figures, it’s just how you look at it.
This last category is where Lou excelled. Sure, he made teams better and that’s the first category but he knew how to put on a show. Can you really forget watching him throwing first base into the outfield after being ejected? Or how about him covering home plate with dirt? He wasn’t doing this to make a point, he was doing this for the fans. He did it just enough to make you want more. I know these shows by Lou probably annoyed some baseball purists and that’s fine.
I go to a lot of concerts and so does my sister. My sister really likes it when bands get up there and play their music. They don’t need to do anything special, just go out there, play their songs and play them well. I like it when bands throw a few theatrics in there. There doesn’t have confetti and fireworks every song; I just like a little bit more personality and entertainment to come along with the music. There’s nothing wrong with either point of view. But, Lou took how I feel about concerts and made it apply to baseball.
Lou Piniella will be remembered for being a good baseball player and for being a good manager above everything else. Rightfully so, but he brought more to the game than just some good baseball. Today, he did the right thing and walked away. He put family first and he’ll be remembered as a good man because of this (and much more). Family goes before the game of baseball. Family goes before entertainment.