He was an outfielder once, and even dabbled behind a desk, pencil-pushing as the general manager of the New York Yankees under a boss who was simply referred to as The Boss.
He settled in Baltimore, Cleveland, Seattle, Kansas City, Cincinnati, St. Petersburg, Chicago, and of course the Big Apple. Eight homes in 46 years can make one feel like a nomad. But he managed to endear himself to the locals at nearly every stop on his journey.
For almost 50 summers, he embarked on an odyssey around our nation, traveling from city to city, state to state, stadium to stadium, all because of a game. On buses and planes, living out of a suitcase and enjoying room service and miniature bars of soap.
Lou Piniella was defined for years by America’s pastime. Now, though, as he leaves behind the game of baseball and heads off into the sunset, we can understand him for who he truly was, aside from fungoes and rawhide, pinstripes and polyester.
He was and still is a special human being. Different from the rest of us, unique in a vaunted way. Lou was nothing if not passionate, wore his heart on his sleeve, and embraced the humanity of his emotions like few of us can.
He won and he lost, but in the end those are merely outcomes of his profession. More than that, under the watchful scrutiny of the public eye, Lou Piniella showed us what it means to be human.
What does it mean to be human? We often neglect to consider the characteristics of our own species. Perhaps we take it for granted, this life. Or maybe we just aren’t cognizant of what it takes to be exceptional when being average is so easy.
Lou was real. He was the genuine article. In a world where we’re taught to conceal our emotions, hide our true feelings, bury our passion beneath a plain-jane white bread facade, Lou Piniella stuck out like a sore thumb.
When Lou was mad, he yelled. And he kicked, and he threw things, and he cussed.
When Lou was happy, he smiled. And laughed, and high-fived, and even turned his hat around on occasion and sat there in the dugout looking like an overgrown teenager with a grin on his face.
When Lou was emotional, he cried. He cried on Sunday as he departed from the one and only line of work he’s ever known. He wept as he left the game, not because of his own desires, but because his family — and more specifically his ailing 90-year-old mother — needed him. He didn’t try to restrain the tears. He was honest. You couldn’t help but feel for the man.
Lou Piniella was different than most of us. He was what we aspire to be, at least from a human perspective. We conceal and deceive and mislead and fake our way through the everyday. We put on happy faces when we’re dying inside. We scoff when what we’re really trying to do is relate. We play coy when all we want to do is shout our feelings from rooftops, and we always say we’re okay when we’re anything but.
Lou didn’t operate the way the rest of us do. Taught to behave like robots, he couldn’t have been farther from the synthetic. He was real. He caught people off-guard with his candor. But should anyone ever be caught off-guard by the truth? Only in a mixed-up environment, maybe.
The world would be a better place if there were more Lou Piniellas. It’s not a stretch to admit that. And love him or hate him, you can’t deny that he lived and breathed with the type of passion that most of us can only dream of possessing. He made his job an adventure. He kept his coworkers and employees on edge, always expecting the unexpected and never quite knowing what might happen next.
There have been fire-and-brimstone managers who worked hard to retain the fear of their players. There have been even-keel types who gritted their teeth through stoic exteriors just to keep their even-keel reputation intact. And then there was Lou Piniella, who was neither of these things, but at times embodied each of these personas. He didn’t try to be angry or happy or disappointed or sad or ecstatic or jovial or pissed as all hell. He just was.
Lou felt an emotion and acted on it. For nearly half a century. In front of millions of onlookers. He was successful in being this way. We can learn from him. We can be like him. We can imitate him, for the good of our world. Imitate but never replicate. Because there will only ever be one Lou Piniella. And he will be missed.