Lou Piniella managed the Rays for only three seasons, but there were enough stories to make it seem like 10 — or 20. Like when he dyed his hair blond to celebrate a three-game winning streak. Like when he exploded at Ben Grieve for the cardinal sin of not caring enough. Like when he'd give postgame hitting tips in his underwear (or less). Like when he'd brazenly say what was on his mind about his team, or be so exasperated he didn't know what to say. With Piniella, now the Cubs manager, announcing last week he was retiring at season's end, we asked some of the Rays players and staff who were around during the Lou years — 2003-05 — to share their favorite * stories (* for a family newspaper).
Carl Crawford, player
My first spring training game (in 2003) I tried to bunt, there was a man on second with two outs, I didn't get the bunt down and I got out. I was coming back to the dugout and he was waiting for me. He told me don't try to bunt with a man on second, try to drive him in — but it wasn't that nice. Just use your imagination. And from then on, I was a changed person.
Jeff Ziegler, travel director
It was a Saturday morning in spring training at Al Lang Field. The night before, (2B) Roberto Alomar had retired in the middle of the game. That morning, (OF) Danny Bautista came in and announced that he was retiring, too. I walked in, there's Lou sitting at his desk, it's like 7:30, and Lou looks at me and says, "You better get (then-GM Chuck) LaMar on the phone and tell him we've got defections." … That was his third season (2005), so he had started to take some of the things that were going on in stride, and he was kinda half-laughing. The thing about Lou was that when he was being his funniest, sometimes you couldn't laugh. But that time he laughed, and I remember him saying, "It ain't easy being a Devil Ray. It's tough wearing green."
B.J. Upton, player
We were playing the Tigers at home (in 2004), I was playing shortstop, me and (2B) Jorge Cantu had a little confusion about who was covering the bag. I knew it wasn't my bag to cover, but I went to cover and (Omar) Infante hit the ball exactly where I was standing. The inning ended and before I even took a step to the dugout I could see him waiting, and he just went off. It was something I'll never forget. I hadn't been up a couple weeks, and I got an earful from Lou.
Scott Proefrock, former assistant GM
We lost a game in Chicago on a passed ball, and I made the mistake of going right into his office afterward. He started pounding on the desk, kicking the chair, etc., and he slammed the door so hard that the ceiling tiles fell out of the ceiling and hit me on the head. When I came out of the office after listening to his tirade for about 10 minutes, the coaches were laughing at me for being dumb enough to go in there after a tough loss. I never met anyone who wanted to win and hated to lose as much as Lou.
Tom Foley, coach
We're struggling and he comes into the coaches room and he's in one of those moods, and he's going off, he's walking back and forth, and we're all just sitting there. And all of a sudden, there's a lull. He kinda stops, right in the middle, and (then-coach) Matty Sinatro goes, "Okay, everybody who's having fun raise their hand." And Lou just looks right at him, didn't say anything. It kind of broke it up.
Scott Cursi, bullpen catcher
Robert Fick was on the team, and his wife was a very attractive lady from Southern California. One day we're right outside the bus, and Lou looks at him, and then he looks at her, and he just says: "Robert Fick — his wife must have married him over the phone."
Chris Fernandez, video coordinator
Lou just got the job, he's in my office because he wants to look at some hitters and Tank (aptly nicknamed clubhouse attendant Brandon Richesin) comes in to drop off some papers. And next thing you know he's got Tank standing there with a bat in hand, telling him, "Bend your knees a little bit, you can hit from there, that feels pretty good, right," like he was Aubrey Huff or something.
Given the trouble Lance Cormier and Andy Sonnanstine have had finishing games, RHP Jeremy Hellickson could end up joining the bullpen, maybe sooner than later. … Ryne Sandberg is the obvious front-runner, but bench coach Dave Martinez's name may come up in the Cubs' managerial search. … Lou Piniella would like to work as a consultant after retiring home to Tampa, but it's hard to see Rays management hiring him back. … The Jon Weber who retired last week, days before getting a 100-game suspension (third positive test for a drug of abuse), is the one who spent 2007-09 with Triple-A Durham. … Monday's 19-inning Class A game in Port Charlotte was the longest in organization history. … Of Alex Rodriguez's 599 home runs, the Rays have allowed 43. … Doesn't hurt the Rays that the Tigers are playing a day-night doubleheader today before heading down for a four-game series. … LHP David Price will be featured on ESPN's E:60 show Tuesday.
Got a minute? Grant Balfour
Best meal you can make?
Go-to-store at mall?
Buckle (jeans, clothing).
Who would play you in a movie?
Paul Hogan (of Crocodile Dundee fame).
My wife, Angie.
Staff writer Joe Smith contributed to this report.