Lou Piniella, who turns 65 on Thursday, doesn't come across as particularly slick when he talks about the "Cubbies." Sometimes he'll mangle words, or mispronounce a name, or drift during his pregame media briefings. At those moments, you might forget just how competitive Piniella is, or how calculating the manager can be.
Bob Klapisch, an outstanding baseball writer for The Bergen Record who was recently injured in a horrifying accident, recalls a classic Piniella story within this comeback column:
In 1988, for instance, I was pitching in a media game in Yankee Stadium. Lou Piniella, who was then managing the Bombers, sat in the stands and watched. In the eighth inning, he decided he wanted an at-bat - against me.
Sweet Lou stood in the batter's box wearing his Italian loafers and cashmere sweater, yet fully committed to the at-bat. So was I. With a 2-1 count, I threw the best slider my genetic coding would allow - down and away, with a late break. Piniella never flinched: He crushed it off the wall in right-center.
Of course, Lou never left the batter's box. He stood there, smiling at me so broadly his eyes looked like slits.
"Did you know that was coming?" I asked dumbfounded.
"What do you think I've been doing here all day?" Piniella said. "I've been figuring out what you throw on different counts. It was easy."