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Another thing that Piniella has improved is his disposition. He spent his early days smashing water coolers. The cooler from the home-team dugout of old Municipal Stadium in Kansas City is enshrined in the garage of his Tampa home. "I paid for it," he says, "so I might as well keep it." In disgust, he once kicked a minor league outfield fence so hard that it fell on him. "I'm more controlled now," he says. "More mature. Maybe I'm a little more confident in myself."
Which isn't to say the Piniella of old doesn't surface now and then. Two seasons ago in a game against Oakland, Piniella hit what he thought was a double. The official scorer ruled it an error. Piniella ranted right through the end of the inning. He remains, in fact, one of the most animated arguers in the game, though it takes more to set him off.
Piniella's more placid alter ego among the Yankees is 36-year-old Bobby Murcer. They go to the track together, pinch-hit for each other and check out each other's batting form. "If Lou was 30 for 30," says Murcer, "he'd still ask me, 'What about my swing? Tell me what I'm doing wrong.' "
When Piniella the coach evaluates Piniella the DH he says, "There's not much you can teach an old guy like me, except to try to be more patient and a little more selective. I try not to get into a pull syndrome and use more of the field. I'm a line-drive hitter, so I don't want to overstep my boundaries." Piniella's prize pupil so far has been Shortstop Roy Smalley. At his urging, Smalley is depending less on his arms and upper body and more on his legs and lower body.
"On the days that I play," Piniella says, "I don't like to stand on my 39-year-old legs all afternoon watching somebody else hit, because it tires me out. And to me, legs are of paramount importance in hitting a baseball."
Piniella and Steinbrenner share a hometown, Tampa, and a predictable unpredictability. When Piniella became eligible for free agency last winter, Steinbrenner offered him a one-year contract. Piniella demanded two years. Steinbrenner countered with three. Why? "Don't ask me," Piniella says. "I told my agent, 'Just type it up and I'll sign it!' "
Steinbrenner's admiration for Piniella's durability and aggressiveness has led to speculation that Piniella may someday—maybe even soon—be asked to manage the Yankees. Though the job offers little security—New York has had three skippers this year, as well as five pitching coaches—Piniella says, "If I ever got the opportunity, I think it would be a challenge I wouldn't mind tackling." Meanwhile, Piniella is looking forward to what he calls the "real world."
He says, "I feel like I'm capable of going out into the business world and producing using the same principles that I've used in baseball—hard work, determination, proper preparation."
Preparation for Piniella includes business interests in a corrugated-container company and in thoroughbred racing—he and Steinbrenner own a 2-year-old filly, Proudly Dancing, who, like the fourth-place Yankees, has waltzed with her head down this year. But what Piniella really wants to do now is tackle Wall Street. That's one of two sites—Woodbridge, N.J. is the other—where he and a partner will open restaurants this winter. They already have two successful restaurants, steak-and-ale joints named the Long Branch Saloon, in the Kansas City area.
But when February arrives again Piniella will concentrate on baseball, and concentration, he believes, is what separates the good hitters from the bad. "There's a time and a place to have fun in baseball, but it's not when I'm at the plate," he says.