August 28 – Happy Birthday Lou Piniella
If you’re old enough to remember when Lou Piniella played for the Yankees, you most likely enjoyed watching him do so. He had very little speed and not much power so he mixed every ounce of talent he had with every bit of effort he could muster to play a huge role in helping New York win five pennants and two World Series during his eleven seasons with the team. Oh yeah, he also had a beautiful swing which earned him the nickname “Sweet Lou.” He first donned the pinstripes in 1974, when the Yankees picked up the 1969 AL Rookie of the Year winner from the Royals in a trade for veteran reliever Lindy McDaniel. It turned out to be one of the best transactions in Yankee history. He hit .305 as manager Bill Virdon’s everyday right-fielder during his first year in the Bronx but then he went through a horrible season in 1975, averaging just .186 and helping to get Virdon fired and replaced by the fiery Billy Martin. Billy began playing Piniella a little bit in right field, a little bit in left and a little bit at DH. Lou simply thrived in this semi-utility role, averaging over .300 for the rest of his Yankee career. The play he will always be remembered for in the Big Apple was his famous feint on the Jerry Remy liner that he lost in the sun during the 1978 playoff game against the Red Sox. If he doesn’t make believe he sees that ball, Rick Burleson, who was on first at the time, easily gets to third and might have scored. Then Lou spears the ball on one hop and again prevents Burleson from getting past second.
George Steinbrenner loved players born in his adopted home-town of Tampa and Lou was the first native of that city to play for The Boss. That helps explain why George gave Lou his first manager and general manager jobs with the Yankees. Piniella’s temper and Steinbrenner’s famous impatience with anyone placed in either of those positions ended any chance Lou might have had to retire from baseball as a Yankee. Instead he went on to win three Manager of the Year titles, the 1991 World Series and finally ended his 43-year big league career this month when he walked away from the Wrigley Field dugout to spend time with his ailing Mom and go fishing.
Lou turns 68 years-old today. The guy who gave up the home run to Bucky Dent in that 1978 playoff game, the pitcher who started that playoff game for New York and this former Yankee second baseman were all also born on August 28th.