While they shared the same heritage, Anita was at first leery of Lou, the ballplayer. When she had been Miss Tampa, a suave major leaguer had courted her till she found out he was married, with children. But once she gave Piniella a chance, she fell quickly for the handsome busher, and they were married in six months. Already, though, he was drifting through the horse latitudes of the minors. It wasn't easy, especially for a red ass, even more especially for a charming fellow who'd "always been used to being successful." He hadn't just been a baseball star; he had gloried even more in basketball: "I was a 6'2" guard who could shoot." Pause. "And I shot a lot." Pause. Smile. "I shot a lot." Sweet Lou Piniella is not altogether unfamiliar with instant gratification.
"Athletes are so self-centered," he says. "We're pampered, and we have tunnel vision. We must be impossible to be married to. In baseball the mother basically raises the children. But God's been a big influence in our lives. And Anita and I have been able to roll with the punches."
Anita agrees. "Lou's less volatile now, more patient," she says. "And his faith has developed." Before, his fury always stood in the way. "Lou's temper embarrassed him," she says. "It embarrassed the children. 'Why does Daddy do that?' He had to find an opposite way. But perhaps it wasn't all that difficult. Lou, you know, has always been the first one to cry."
There's no crying in baseball? Piniella cries when he's happy. He cries when he's sad. Alex Rodriguez leaving him? John McLaren, one of Piniella's coaches since 1992, remembers last spring, after Piniella had cut a journeyman outfielder named Brian L. Hunter. Piniella went to his office and bawled like a baby. "All the Piniella-isms, throwing the bases, all that crap—the real thing that stands out about Lou is his compassion," says Lee Elia, a former manager who has known him for more than 30 years. "The son of a gun is really sensitive."
"The biggest part of this job isn't on the field," Piniella says. "It's in the clubhouse. The clubhouse. How to make it fun. How to make it positive."
So much of baseball is the gruel of the everyday. It's like Edna St. Vincent Millay's simple summation of our lives: "It's not true that life is one damn thing after another. It's one damn thing over and over."
Or, Lou Piniella on the baseball life: "I'll tell you what—it can truly wear you out."
So now, he naps before some game nights. He cuts down on time spent brooding at the park before games. He delegates more authority to his coaches and even has them formally critique his performance two or three times a season. After a loss, if he fears he's going to blow a gasket, he seethes alone before he admits the ladies and gentlemen of the fourth estate. Then, afterward, he sits with a glass of port—There's no port in baseball!—and studies the game. He examines the options he had, not second-guessing ("Lou never second-guesses himself," Anita says) but trying to better understand in case those choices present themselves again.
However, if strategy wins games, temperament wins seasons. Pat Gillick, the Seattle general manager, believes drat managing players has become markedly different in just the last decade. Piniella agrees. "Society has changed," he says. "Managing is a people business."
He lets the players make their own rules. They decide, for example, what fines to levy for missing the cutoff man or failing to run out a pop fly. McLaren advises players to confront Piniella directly if they have a gripe. "Remember when Earl Weaver came back?" Piniella asks of his old manager's return to the Orioles in 1985. "He'd been gone only a few years, but the game had passed him by. No, not the game; the way players were. His style had become too intense. A manager has to keep his intensity about where the team's is Maybe even a little below the players' level. Oh sure, you hope to raise it, but you can't get too much ahead of your team."