Elliott on baseball column

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:03 AM ET

The manager at double-A Elmira came straight to the point back in 1965:

"Son, you are too hot-headed to ever make the majors."

If that wasn't the pot calling the tea kettle names.

The manager was Earl Weaver, who could get ejected quicker and more often than any other, this side of Billy Martin.

Weaver's young outfielder that day was Lou Piniella.

We're not sure whether Piniella has toned down his temper. You don't know what you don't know, and who knows outside of Weaver how many dugouts, water coolers or clubhouse doors, the young player attacked after he was rung up on a ball on the outside corner for strike three.

Weaver, however, was wrong about Piniella not playing in the majors --Sweet Lou played 18 seasons and 1,747 games. He had a sip of coffee with the Baltimore Orioles in 1964 and a drink of warm tap water with the Cleveland Indians in '68.

Then, Piniella went to the Seattle Pilots in the expansion draft but was dealt to the Kansas City Royals in'69 and wound up rookie of the year.

In 1973, the K.C. general manager, Jack McKeon, went with youth and traded Piniella to the New York Yankees. Taking Piniella's place was the redoubtable Jim Wohlford. It was a common barb in the Yanks clubhouse when Piniella would enter. Catfish Hunter would call out: "JIM (BLEEPIN') WOHLFORD!"

We remember George Brett of the Royals, arch enemies of the Yanks in the late 1970s, telling us once: "Our teams hated each other so much, like the Red Sox and the Yankees. Once, Lou tried to spike me at third -- I didn't even have the ball."

Piniella retired in 1984, after getting World Series rings in 1977 and '78. In four Series, the reddest butt in the Bronx hit .319 and became a fan favourite for his fiery temper.

He took over for Martin and managed the Yankees to a 90-win season in 1986 and 89 the following year.

He then was promoted to Yankees GM and Martin returned. But Martin was fired 69 games into 1988 and Piniella returned to the dugout.

Next followed managing stops in Cincinnati, where he guided the Reds to an upset win over the Oakland A's -- the dynasty which reached three consecutive Series and won a grand total of five games -- Seattle and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

We've seen 26 season openers and never have we seen the applause that Seattle fans showered Piniella with in 1993 on opening night.

He wore his heart on his sleeve. He sometimes wore out his relievers and had as much patience as a New York cabbie trying to make it crosstown before the OTB shop closed.

Yet, all the base-tossing tantrums, the tackling of Reds reliever Rob Dibble and all the success -- including 116 wins with the M's in 2001 -- could have come managing the Blue Jays.

When Jimmy Williams was fired 36 games into the 1989 season, the candidates to replace him were Buddy Harrelson of the New York Mets; Terry Bevington of the Chicago White Sox; triple-A Syracuse manager Bob Bailor and Piniella. At the time, hitting coach Cito Gaston said he was not interested.

Piniella was doing Yankees TV and flew from Seattle to Toronto for his interview, which went extremely well.

The problem was George Steinbrenner wanted to be compensated, asking for two of three Jays arms from a list which included Todd Stottlemyre, David Wells and Duane Ward. The Jays declined that deal. One pitcher, fine. But not two.

So, president Paul Beeston talked Gaston into taking the job and the Jays finally got over the post-season hump.

Weaver was right about a lot of things when he ran the pitching-rich Orioles -- Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar and Jim Palmer, all 20-game winners in 1970, and then Dennis Martinez, Mike Flanagan and Scott McGregor in 1979 -- waiting for the three-run homer.

But he was wrong about Piniella.

And with the Devil Rays' win over the Jays in the opener of this weekend series at the Rogers Centre, Piniella registered his 1,481st career victory to move into sole possession of 19th place on the all-time managerial win list.

The man he passed was none other than the Earl of Baltimore.

And following yesterday afternoon's 6-5 win over the Jays -- No. 1,482 -- Piniella is nine behind Clark Griffith for 18th spot. After that? Dick Williams and his 1,571 wins.

Piniella left the Mariners to be close to home in Tampa after the 2002 season in which M's CEO Howard Lincoln refused to give approval to add another bat for the stretch run.

We remember walking into Piniella's office March 24 the following spring and asking: "Are you nuts?"

Piniella's answer that day was the same as it was this weekend.

"No, I'm not nuts, it's nice to be at home," he said.

Travelling around North America with the team with the fewest wins in majors ... that's the tough part.

SLAM DUNK

On Dec. 5, 1988 the Chicago Cubs sent Rafael Palmeiro, Drew Hall and Jamie Moyer to the Texas Rangers for Mitch Williams, Paul Kilgus, Steve Wilson, Curtis Wilkerson and two minor-leaguers. The Cubs gave up on Palmeiro because he did not have enough power.

Five years ago, despite his numbers, he was going to be the first casualty of the juiced-bicep era of baseball, according to most everyone. His numbers were inflated, therefore, they reasoned, he would not make the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

The Baltimore Orioles first baseman collected his 3,000th career hit off Seattle's Joel Pineiro on Friday night. He joins Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray as the only players in history with at least 3,000 hits and 500 homers.

He has my vote.

QUESTIONS

Why would the Red Sox not ease Curt Schilling back into games, rather than throwing him out there in a tie game against the Yanks? It's July, not Oct. 2.

Has it been this long? Tuesday is the 10th anniversary of the Devil Rays' hiring GM Chuck LaMarr.

THE LEITER SIDE

How fitting is that that Al Leiter winds up with the Yanks to finish his career? Leiter started with the Yanks, was dealt April 30, 1989, to the Jays for right fielder Jesse Barfield, breaking Pat Gillick's 608-day stagnant stretch of not trading a player on his 25-man roster.

Not that the deal was big news, but the trade sparked 10 stories in a certain tabloid and sent two writers to Yankee Stadium.

That's when Yanks manager Dallas Green uttered the memorable line when asked about Barfield's declining numbers: "Numbers? The problem with Leiter is that he doesn't have any numbers."

WATCH dogs

While Bill Scherrer, special assistant to the Chicago White Sox general manager Kenny Williams, is in town observing the Jays as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches. Ted Lekas, the Jays' senior scout in terms of service, is watching the White Sox in Cleveland, wearing a UConn visor.

SYMPATHIES

To D-Rays broadcaster Dewayne Staats, who lost his wife, Dee, 52, a week ago Friday. Dee and Dewayne were wed for 32 years, a feat of some accomplishment in his line of work of 90-plus days a season on the road. Dee lost the good fight to lung cancer.

ALL-STAR

Greg Morrison, of Lethbridge, Alta., a former Jays hand who help Canada qualify for the World Cup with wins over Team USA and the Czech Republic, made the Northern League all-star team. The Calgary Vipers first baseman is hitting .324 with 11 homers and 35 RBIs.


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