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Hall of Fame Case for Lou Piniella

Lou Pinella Mariners

8 Oct 1995: Manager Lou Pinella of the Seattle Mariners looks on during the Mariners 6-5 victory over the New York Yankees in the American League playoff series at the Kingdome in Seattle. Washington.

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On Monday, December 9, the Today’s Game committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame, which covers the years 1988-2018 — will vote on candidates for the 2019 induction class. Between now and then we will take a look at the ten candidates, one-by-one, to assess their Hall worthiness.

And yes, we did this two years ago, the last time the Today’s Game ballot was up for a vote, with most of the same candidates appearing. As such, a lot of this will be repeat material, some of it verbatim. Our view of this, however, is that if the Hall of Fame can keep recycling the same ballot, we can recycle our analysis of it to the extent it hasn’t changed.

Next up: Lou Piniella

The case for his induction:

He notched 1,835 wins, made seven postseason appearances, won a World Series as a manager and two as a player. That win total is good for 16th all time. Of the 15 men ahead of him, 12 are already in the Hall. The three who aren’t: Bruce Bochy, who is still active and likely will make the Hall of Fame one day; Dusty Baker, who was managing as late as 2017 and has not yet made a ballot but very well may make it himself; and Gene Mauch, who was under .500 for his career and never won a title anyplace. All of which is to say is that if you have Piniella’s win total and you’re either over .500 as Piniella is, have a World Series ring or three as Piniella does, or both, also as Piniella does, you’re probably getting in, at least eventually.

A lot of those wins came in some good places and at some good times, adding some psychological weight to that record. Taking the 1990 Reds to the World Series and beating the heavily favored A’s was a great story and, as the Reds’ last title for 28 years and counting, stands as a more memorable accomplishment than doing it someplace else. Likewise, his next job, in Seattle, coincided with the franchise’s best seasons thanks to the emergence of Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson and Edgar Martinez under Piniella’s command. Mariners’ history fundamentally changed during the Piniella era and he will always be associated with that. Oh, and his 2001 team set the single season record for wins with 116. He made two playoff appearances with the Cubs too. That’s been eclipsed by the team’s more recent exploits, but it was a pretty big deal at the time.

It’s also worth noting that Piniella likewise had a very fine playing career, with 18 seasons of 109 OPS+ hitting, a Rookie of the Year Award and a couple of World Series rings on his resume. That’s not enough by itself to get him in the Hall, but he presents a nice total package as a Baseball Man Supreme who has been thought highly of for close to 50 years now. Joe Torre light, maybe? Which, to be clear, is not meant as faint praise.

Oh, one other thing: he was colorful. He had a temper and a reputation as kind of a red ass, with a good number of on-the-field incidents which stick in people’s minds. That sort of thing doesn’t necessarily make someone a good manager or a good person, but Piniella has been seen as a guy who mellowed with age and, at various times in his career, showed that he had a sense of humor about all of that stuff which makes it play a heck of a lot better. For Hall of Fame purposes, it certainly plays a heck of a lot more memorably.

The case against his induction:

His years in Tampa Bay weren’t all that great and, by the time his days in Chicago were over there was a sense that he was sort of running on fumes. In both places Joe Maddon eventually came along and did better things and, in some cases, undid some bad things that happened under Piniella’s watch. Some believe he should’ve won another pennant or two and, yes, some of those Mariners teams disappointed in the postseason. Some people look less amusingly on his temper tantrums over the years and, I suppose, one could characterize them a bit more sinisterly than I did above without being too dramatic.

Would I vote for him?

I think so. As I mentioned in the George Steinbrenner entry, when it comes to managers and executives, I put a lot of weight on whether one could tell the story of baseball in a guy’s era without mentioning his name. Piniella is no Joe Torre, Bobby Cox of Tony La Russa in that regard, but he’s pretty close to that group in terms of the figure he cut in the game and, as I mentioned, he’s critical to the story of a couple of franchises. Certainly the Mariners but also the 1970s Yankees as a player and, possibly, the 1990 Reds. I tend to be a softer Hall of Fame touch than a lot of people, so I get that people may disagree, but I’d put him in.

Will the Committee vote for him?

I feel like they will. Indeed, I suspect he stands the best chance out of anyone on this year’s ballot of getting elected. Piniella is the sort of baseball man that tends to get rewarded by the Veterans Committee, however it’s comprised. That he didn’t the last time he was up, in 2016, was likely a function of there being a couple of other, more important executives on the ballot in Bud Selig and John Schuerholz, who took precedence and, likely, took away votes. This time the field is not so crowded.

Is he a gimme? No, but I like his odds.

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