I recently received a call from Mead Chasky, the sports memorabilia guru, to tell me that Lou Piniella had a stroke.
When I heard this news it really startled me. Lou Piniella is not supposed to have a stroke, Lou Piniella is one of the strongest most wonderful, most caring athletes that I have ever known. A true mans man.
When I was a Yankee batboy in the 70s, Lou was truly one of the leaders of the pack. He was the one that was always very consistent in his relationship with all of the players. When there were issues, Lou was never afraid to extend his hand to help. When the Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson feud over a magazine article happened, Lou masterfully and quietly helped diffuse the situation as best he could. He never had to pick sides because he was loved by all in that “animal house, Bronx Zoo” clubhouse. He was Thurman’s brother, a son to the Boss and a little brother to Billy Martin. I must add that to say that the respect that Sweet Lou and Mr. October had for each other was great would be an understatement. To see Lou and Catfish Hunter joke around with each other was a great treat and to hear Lou and Oscar Gamble go at it verbally was the greatest show on earth. Next to Billy Martin, no one had a bigger temper than Sir Sweetness, yet no one was more loving than Sweet Lou.
He was so giving of his craft as a hitter. He could be in the shower with some of the other players after a game and in the nude he would go into his batting stance to show another player how he could improve his hitting approach.
Thurman and Bobby Murcer loved Lou so much, but then again everybody did.
When Billy Martin would not bat Reggie Jackson fourth in the lineup, it was Lou and Thurman that went to the Boss so that he could talk to Billy because Lou felt it would be better for the team if Reggie batted fourth. While sitting in Steinbrenner’s room, Billy Martin could hear them talking from the hallway and banged on the Boss’s door. The Boss told Lou and Thurman to hide in the bathroom but Billy found them hiding in the shower. Things did work out and Billy did finally understand and Reggie did start to hit again and carry the team through the World Series. Lou and Thurman should have been given honorary psychology degrees for their clubhouse work.
There are so many wonderful locker room stories that if you were not there you wouldn’t believe. So many of them involving Lou.
I will never forget that my very first road trip with the Yankees was in 1974. We went to Chicago. I had an uncle there that I was very fond of by the name of Quino. I met him at a fancy pizza place and while sitting there, Lou walked in. He saw us and came over to say hello. It was ironic that these two men would meet because one of the reasons I loved Lou Piniella was because he reminded me so much of my uncle Quino. We ended up eating pizza together and just talking about life. My uncle was not a baseball guy at all and he had never played but his life as a navy guy and a part time actor in Hollywood made for interesting conversation. Of course Lou Piniella was and always will be one of the most interesting people that you would ever meet.
Last week, I went to visit Lou at his charity event. I was afraid of how Lou was going to look after his stroke. I got there early and waited. Lou finally walked in, our eyes met and I could not help but to smile in relief. The first thing that I did was hug Lou and give him a kiss. I have to say that Sweet Lou never looked better, still one of the most handsome Yankees ever. The first thing that Lou said to me was that he had a stroke but that he was feeling just fine. Lou has never been the kind to sugar coat anything so this was a wonderful relief.
Through all of this craziness, Lou was still working with his charity which helps abducted children, kids that have been kidnapped and tortured. He is a part of a company called “Score International.” They help children all around the world with offices right here in Tampa. You can find out more by visiting the web site scoreintl.org
I am proud to say that I have known Lou Piniella for over 45 years and proudly say that he has been one of my true role models growing up. He is one of the strongest, most passionate men that I have ever known.
Lou Gehrig once said that “Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth”
Well, I have to disagree because I know that I will always be the luckiest man on the face of the earth…. I got to love and be loved by men named Munson, Murcer, Jackson, Martin, Steinbrenner and of course Sweet Lou Piniella.
Additionally, Ray can be heard on weekends on IMPACT on ESPN Radio 1050am talking baseball and entertainment. His writes a weekly column for NY Sports Day, Newsmax And Baseball America. A powerful and inspirational speaker, he passionately shares his amazing journey, revealing his experience with the Bronx Bombers, special relationship with Steinbrenner and what it was like to hang around some of baseball’s greats.
For more information about Ray please check out his website batboyhelps.com