My favorite player retired Saturday. Lou Piniella, whose first year with the Yankees (1974) was my first as a baseball writer, took the game seriously but not himself. "I'm an expansion player," he loved to say, and he was right. He didn't get a full shot at the bigs until his eighth year of pro ball, in 1969, when Seattle drafted him from Cleveland and then sent him to the Royals before the start of the season.
A player of modest talents, Piniella worked hard, used his head and had a .291 average for his more than 15 years in the majors. The fans loved him because he never made excuses and never hid his emotions. Or, rather, he was never afraid to show his emotions.
I remember when he fell down during an argument in the '78 playoffs because he got his feet tangled, and continued to scream and yell at the umpire as he was sitting behind home plate. I remember all the times I glanced at the outfield between pitches and saw Piniella practicing his swing.
"On the Orioles, we always say he's our favorite player," says Mike Flanagan. "He was mine. He was a working-class hero. He worked hard, he played hard, and the fans recognized that."
For a fan lucky enough to know him, let me say so long, viejo, you'll be missed.