Sweet Lou: A true Royals original
Piniella holds special place in Kansas City baseball history
Aggressive, loud and sweet are all words to describe Louis Victor Piniella. For those under 45, Piniella is remembered most for his managerial career, which includes a 1990 World Series title with the Cincinnati Reds, three Manager of the Year Awards (Seattle Mariners 1995, 2001; Chicago Cubs 2008) and his colorful arguments with umpires. Longtime Royals fans remember 'Sweet Lou' as 'the first' -- the first Royals player to come to bat, the first to get a hit, the first to score a run and the first to win Rookie of the Year honors.
Like many players, Piniella spent years in the Minors. He changed organizations, and even when called up to the big leagues, he was sent back down after a few games. Originally, he signed with the Cleveland Indians on June 9, 1962, as an amateur free agent. In November, he was drafted by the Washington Senators. Piniella was then traded to the Baltimore Orioles on Aug. 4, 1964. The third team was the charm as he made his Major League debut a month later on Sept. 4, a week after turning 21. He played only four games before going back to the Minors. Piniella was traded back to Cleveland in 1966 where he played six games for the Tribe before the Seattle Pilots picked him up in the 1968 expansion draft. A week before the beginning of the 1969 season, the Pilots traded him to the other American League expansion club -- the Kansas City Royals.
Piniella had two short stints in the Major Leagues playing a total of 10 games before joining the Royals, and he made the most of opportunity with his fifth organization in seven years. Manager Joe Gordon put Piniella in center field and installed him as the lead off man for the Royals inaugural game. On April 8, 1969, in front of the home crowd at Municipal Stadium, Piniella led off the bottom of the first inning with a ringing double on the first pitch he saw for the first hit in Royals history. Piniella went on hit .282 with 139 hits that season and was named the 1969 American League Rookie of the Year.
He played for the Royals from 1969-1973 and earned his first and only All-Star Game appearance in 1972 -- the same year he led the American League in doubles. Piniella has another distinction as a Royal that he would likely not put in his top 10 performances: On April 16, 1970, against the Milwaukee Brewers, he became the first player to be thrown out at every base including home plate in a single game. On a positive note, he also hit a three-run home run helping lead the Royals to an 8-6 win.
Piniella was traded to New York after the 1973 season for pitcher Lindy McDaniel. He battled his former team in four memorable American League Championship Series and won two World Series rings with the Yankees. After retiring as a player, he managed the New York Yankees in 1986 and 1987. In 1988, he became their general manager but was forced to step back into his manager role after the fourth and final firing of Billy Martin. After his tenure with the Yankees, Piniella managed the Cincinnati Reds from 1990-1992. For the next decade after leaving the Reds, he managed the Seattle Mariners to four postseason appearances, including 116 wins in 2001. He is the only manager to lead the Mariners to the playoffs. After leaving the Mariners, Piniella returned to his hometown of Tampa Bay to manage the Rays, and finally to Chicago where he lead the Cubs to the postseason in 2007 and 2008.
Lou Piniella played professional baseball for seven years before joining the Royals in 1969. But, just as the Royals were a new beginning for Kansas City in 1969, in many ways Kansas City was a new beginning for Piniella. As a rookie on a rookie team, he was given the opportunity other teams didn't, and he made the most of it.
'Sweet Lou' may not be remembered as a Royal outside of Kansas City, but as an original Royal, he will always hold a special place in the hearts of Kansas City baseball fans.
Jill Seib manages the Royals Hall of Fame Collection and Royals Scholastic Victory Program, an educational program for students. She has been with the Royals since 2009. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.