Piniella a Former Indian, Barely
This is the second in a weekly look of players who began their careers in a Cleveland Indians uniform, but made their names with another team. The series will run 19 weeks, through the start of Spring Training.
By Craig Gifford
When Lou Piniella comes to mind for most baseball fans, thoughts turn to a fiery, yet very successful, manager of five teams over 23 seasons.
What many fans do not realize is that Piniella had a successful 18-year baseball playing career. What fewer people remember is he made two pit stops with the Cleveland organization along his baseball journey that began in 1962 and went until he was finished managing in 2010.
It was actually the Indians who gave Piniella his first break in the sport. The team signed the then 19-year-old as an amateur free agent on June 9, 1962. He wasn’t around long as the Washington Senators nabbed Piniella on November 26 in the first-year draft.
After bouncing around the minors and brief big league stint in 1964 with Baltimore, Piniella again found himself with the Tribe in 1966. On March 10, Cleveland acquired the outfielder and first baseman for little-used catcher Cam Carreon. It would be 1968 before Piniella would receive his promotion to Cleveland. He appeared in 6 games, making 6 plate appearances. He did not have a hit, but scored a run and knocked one in to be forever etched in the career stat book of the Indians.
Again, as if fate did not want the future championship-winning manager to be in Cleveland, Piniella was again taken from the Tribe in a draft. This time, on October 15, 1968, he was tabbed as the 28th pick of the Seattle Pilots in their expansion draft. That was the end of Piniella’s time in Cleveland.
Best remembered as a manager in Seattle, Piniella never actually played a game there. The Pilots shipped him off to Kansas City right before the 1969 season started. That is when his career took off. Piniella finally became an everyday player. He spent five years with the Royals and 11 with the Yankees. While he did not put up hall of fame numbers, Piniella did have a good measure of success. He batted a solid .291 with 1,705 hits. He also was part of the Yankees teams that went to three straight World Series from 1976-1978 and won the second two. Piniella and the Yankees lost the 1981 Series.
Piniella stayed in pinstripes until retiring from playing the game at age 40, in 1983. Three years later, Piniella began his managing career with the Yankees. He is best remembered for his years in Cincinnati, where the Reds upset the Oakland A’s in 1990 series, and the Mariners where he spent 10 seasons and guided that team to its best years.
While Piniella was hardly even a spec on the radar of the Indians, he was in Cleveland for a brief time. One has to wonder, at least a bit, what might have happened if fate had not twice intervened to take him away from the shores of Lake Erie.
When Piniella was guiding the Mariners to successful seasons from 1993-2002, the Indians were having their run of glory under former Tribe player Mike Hargrove. Had Piniella spent more time playing for the Indians, one has to wonder if maybe he would have managed the Indians during their 1990s run. He did a lot with a Mariners team that had Ken Griffey, Jr. Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez and very little other star power. Might he have won a World Series with the all-star-at-every-position Indians?
Of course that is just speculation. However, Piniella did succeed with teams that were not as loaded as Hargrove’s Tribe. This is not to take anything away from Hargrove, who was a great manager, himself. Hargrove did just fine for himself as the Tribe skipper. Though, if Piniella had gotten a chance to play every day, chances are he may have been in the dugout, sooner or later, with the Tribe.
Instead, Piniella was in Cleveland for a cup of coffee – or have one – and made his name in the sport in other places.
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