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Safeco Field abuzz as Mariners induct Piniella

Retired skipper expresses gratitude for 10-year run in pregame ceremony

SEATTLE -- With a near sellout crowd at Safeco Field serenading him with chants of "Louuuu," former Mariners manager Lou Piniella was inducted into the team's Hall of Fame on Saturday night in an emotional ceremony capped by his 21-minute speech.

The club's eight-member Hall of Fame now has a skipper, with Piniella joining a group that includes five of his former players -- Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Dan Wilson, Edgar Martinez and Jay Buhner -- as well as his good friend, Hall of Fame broadcaster Dave Niehaus, and original Mariner star Alvin Davis.

Piniella said he took great pride in joining that group and thanked every player who put on the uniform during his tenure, as well as everyone in the organization from ownership to trainers to traveling secretaries.

And in the end, his voice cracked as he got to his concluding words.

"I've thanked everyone, except for the most wonderful fans in baseball," he said as the crowd rose again to a huge chorus of 'Louuuu.' "Thank you for all the love you bestowed on me, my family and our teams while I was here. From the bottom of my heart, I say thank you, I salute you and I'll never forget you."

Piniella is the only manager in Mariners history to have led the club to the playoffs, having done so four times during his decade-long tenure from 1993-2002.

"I loved my 10 years here," Piniella said, noting he had two favorite seasons in particular.

"In 1995, that was the defining season in Seattle Mariners baseball," he said. "Refuse to lose, I remember it like yesterday. And 2001, a magical season ... 116 wins, I don't think that'll ever be done in baseball again. That does pretty good for a manager's record.

"I'm very proud of the things we accomplished here, the playoffs, the division titles, the record attendance, this beautiful ballpark. But truthfully, a manager is only as good as the people he works with and the people he works for and I have so many people to thank for my success."

Piniella and current manager Lloyd McClendon are the only Seattle skippers with winning records during their Mariners time. Piniella went 840-711, while McClendon entered Saturday at 61-54 in his first year at the helm.

Piniella sees a little of himself in McClendon, who has brought a firm hand and fiery nature to the current club.

"I managed against Lloyd when he was with the Pirates and I was with the Cubs," Piniella said earlier. "I enjoy watching him. He's doing a heckuva job. He's got passion for the game, he's got fire, he's a player's guy. I like Mac. I used to love watching him go off at umpires a little bit."

Mariners fans used to love Piniella's own run-in with umpires, of course. His red-faced tirades and hat-kicking, base-throwing tantrums are the stuff of legend in Seattle. Piniella, now 70, managed with a passion that always ran close to the surface.

Asked earlier what one word he'd use to best describe his time in Seattle, Piniella pondered for a bit before answering.

"I'd probably say 'appreciative,'" he said. "That would be the best word to describe it. When they hire you to manage a baseball team, these organizations place a lot of trust in you and you have a lot of responsibility. It's not easy to manage a Major League team if you want to do it the right way. You have to work at it and be prepared.

"So yeah, for these people to entrust their franchise on a guy's shoulders, 'appreciative' is a good word."

Piniella takes great pride in his part in awakening Seattle's love for baseball. When he arrived in the Northwest, the Mariners were coming off a 64-98 season and had gone through seven managers in the previous 12 years.

"I remember my first year when I came here, we used to have breakfast at this place by the Kingdome, myself and the coaches, a late breakfast and then we'd go to the park to get prepared for a game," Piniella said. "We went into this place three or four days in a row and finally the proprietor came over and said, 'Boy, I'm really excited about your team this year. When does the season start?' And I said, 'Heck, we've been playing 15 days already.'

"When I came here, baseball was on the third or fourth page of the sports pages," he said. "To see that transition from small crowds to better crowds to more interest, it was really nice to see."

By Piniella's last two years, the Mariners were leading the Majors in attendance at 3.5 million a season. Those numbers have dwindled as the club hasn't made the postseason since his departure.

But with the team in playoff contention this season and Piniella returning Saturday, Safeco Field was abuzz Saturday. He was joined at the ceremony by Anita, his wife of 47 years, as well as their three children and other family members.

Wilson, Martinez, Buhner and Davis were in attendance, as was Niehaus' wife, Marilyn. Griffey and Johnson were not present as Griffey is in Cincinnati this weekend being inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame, while Johnson has been traveling. But both those players and numerous others had comments played on the big screen and Piniella talked fondly of them all.

Piniella also took time to encourage the current group of players, who were lining the rail of the Mariners dugout in rapt attention throughout his speech.

"Lloyd, you and your staff are doing an outstanding job," he said. "I'm so happy that you guys are playing good baseball. I'll tell you what, let's have some fun the rest of the year. Let's get this team in the playoffs and make Seattle proud of all of you. You guys are good. Believe in yourselves."

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog.
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