There’s good reason for all the euphoria that surrounded the Devil Rays’ hiring of Lou Piniella. He’s arguably the best manager in baseball, not just the best candidate available.
Piniella’s track record of success prominently — and pertinently — features Seattle. Before his 10-year tenure there, the Mariners had been a hauntingly familiar, sad-sack, dome-homed loser. So bad, so poorly supported that the franchise seriously considered relocating — to St. Petersburg.
Piniella knows talent — and how to motivate it. He also can teach, a skill invaluable for the youth-dominated Rays.
He also brings uncommon passion to a franchise too accepting of laid-back losing.
Then there’s Lou the marketing coup and all the promotional promise inherent in the return of the native hero. The Malio’s crowd alone could be a major attendance spike. If there’s a St. Pete Times Forum in downtown Tampa, why not a Tampa Rays’ identity in downtown St. Pete?
But most of all, Piniella means credibility. The bedeviled Rays have become synonymous with losing and a go-to line for David Letterman. Piniella’s a winner. Big time.
In addition to the roots-and-family factor, something else clinched the deal for Piniella besides wads of money. He apparently likes what’s in the Rays’ talent pipeline. And he obviously got the right answers from Vince Naimoli and Chuck LaMar to no-nonsense questions about how this show will be run.
There is also this. Piniella, who is financially flush and hardly without prospects outside baseball, is a proud man. He doesn’t need to tack on a lot of losing at the end of one of the most successful managerial careers in major league annals.
But he also loves a challenge. Turning around the hometown Rays would be the ultimate, crowning achievement. He doubtless thinks it’s doable. He’s not the sort to pull a Casey Stengel and become a Met-like “Come See Lou Explode” promotional mascot for a bad baseball team.
Still, there’s no dearth of expert skeptics, not all of whom are in New York, who say he’s embarking on an ill-advised, legacy-skewing venture. Piniella, however, has never been known to make career decisions based on such consensus.
In fact, he’s already disproved Thomas Wolfe by going home again.