Piniella officially joins YES Network

Back in December we learned that Lou Piniella would be joining the YES Network, a move that was officially announced today. Piniella will be a “special contributor” to YES, working 20-30 events throughout the season. “I’m honored and excited to join the Yankees network and be part of the Yankees family again,” said Piniella in a conference call. Sweet Lou will work as an analyst in the booth — including Spring Training games and on Opening Day — as well pre- and post-game work from the studio. He’ll also contribute to YESNetwork.com and do a CenterStage.

Just in case you were wondering, Piniella laughed when asked if he was gunning for Joe Girardi‘s job. He made it clear that he’s retired from managing and loving it, though he is looking forward to getting to camp to see some of team’s young players. Piniella mentioned Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova by name. Hopefully that leads to more enjoyable broadcasts throughout the spring and regular season.

Biz Round-Up: Sweet Lou returns, MLB rule changes

Report: Lou Piniella set to join YES Network team

An old familiar face is getting ready to return to the Yankee family. One-time Yankee player and manager Lou Piniella will be rejoining the Yankees as a spring training instructor and YES Network analyst, Bob Raissman of The Daily News reported yesterday. Piniella, who served as a San Francisco Giants’ consultant last year, wanted to stay in baseball but also wanted to be close to his home in Tampa. The Yanks were the perfect fit.

According to Raissman’s report, Piniella will do “a limited number of appearances” on YES. The News scribe expects the former skipper to be in the booth come Opening Day in the Trop, and he’ll do a handful of other series throughout the season. The Piniella deal isn’t final yet, but a YES Network spokesperson confirmed to Bryan Hoch that the two sides were working toward a contract. It’ll be good to hear Sweet Lou, who served in the MSG broadcast booth in 1989, back on TV.

Rule tweaks dominate new MLB Basic Agreement

Later this week, the MLB Owners will ratify the new Major League Baseball Basic Agreement, and as the Players Association approved it today, it will become the law of the baseball land. We’ve heard a lot about the changes to the luxury tax, the amateur draft and international spending. Now, courtesy of the Associated Press, we learn about the myriad minor rule changes as well.

Many of these rule changes are common-sense. The Yankees, who should have played the Wild Card Rays this year in the playoffs but did not, would under a rule that allows teams from the same division to meet in the Division Series. MLB, as was reported earlier this fall, will expand instant replay to include “trapped” catches and some more fair/foul calls. The All Star Break will now be four days, and the game may move to Wednesday beginning in 2013 as well.

For players, MLB has banned tattoos with corporate logos and obscene nicknames written on equipment that may be visible to fans at the stadium or at home. Furthermore, David Ortiz will no longer be allowed to whine about his RBI total as players are banned from requesting scoring changes from the official scorer. Only MLB may hear an appeal now.

My favorite new rule change concerns uniforms though. Here’s how the AP describes it:

Quick uniform number switches will be a thing of the past. Players must tell the commissioner’s office by July 31 of the preceding year if they want a new jersey. That is, unless “the player (or someone on his behalf) purchases the existing finished goods inventory of apparel containing the player’s jersey number.” As in, every replica jersey, jacket, T-shirt, mug and anything else with a number that’s anywhere in stock.

How utterly vindictive.

Finally, one popular team practice has been eliminated as well: Clubs may no longer summon Minor Leaguers to the Majors without activating them. In other words, no more will top prospects be allowed to watch the rest of the regular season unfold in late September from the bench. The Yanks have done this in the past with their youngsters ranging from Derek Jeter to Jesus Montero and beyond. All told, though, these rule changes seem fairly reasonable to me.

Lou Piniella will attend Old Timers’ Day

Via Ken Davidoff, Lou Piniella will attend Old Timer’s Day this summer, his first time in a Yankee uniform since 1988. He’s currently a “special consultant” with the Giants, a cushy job that affords him the luxury of staying home with his elderly mother. I’m too young to have seen Piniella play, and I don’t remember anything about his time as a manager either. I was like, five when he was running things. Either way, it’ll be cool to see him there.

Joe Torre will be there this year as well, in case you missed it over the winter.

Piniella set to consult for San Fran

When, in early 2009, it became clear that Lou Piniella was going to end his managerial career after the 2010 season, Hal Steinbrenner expressed his desire to bring Lou back to the Bronx in an advisory role. Piniella also had fond feelings for the Yanks and the Yanks for him. It is not a reunion to be, however. As John Shea of The San Francisco Chronicle reported this morning, Piniella will be joining the Giants instead. Piniella and Giants’ GM Brian Sabean are tight from their time together with the Yanks, and the former skipper will consult for the defending World Champions instead of the Yankees.

Two former Bronx icons near the end of the line

Joe Torre and Lou Piniella talk during a 2001 game. Credit: AP Photo, Ron Frehm

Last night in Philadelphia, the Dodgers lost a game that summed up their season. Jonathan Broxton, the once-untouchable closer, allowed four runs without retiring a batter in the 9th, and Joe Torre’s previous bullpen machinations failed. Minus Mariano, it was a familiar story for Yankee fans as Torre used five relievers to try to get the final seven outs of the game.

With their loss, the Dodgers dropped to 59-56, nine games behind the Padres and in fourth place. They’re just 6.5 out of the Wild Card but behind five teams, and the team is treading water as the season nears an end. Their manager too is just treading water, and Los Angelenos are awaiting to see if Joe Torre will come back for another stint in Chavez Ravine or call it a career. Fans, it seems, are ready to let him go. Jon Weisman for Dodger Thoughts opines:

There’s also the fact that Torre has always felt like something of a visiting professor here. There was a ticking clock –partly self-imposed by Torre — from the moment he hastily replaced Grady Little in the fall of 2007. Torre has been liked by many and loved by some — but he hasn’t penetrated the hearts of Los Angeles’ baseball community in a meaningful way. His ties to New York’s string of World Series titles can’t be broken by a couple of NLCS runs. It took Jackson several NBA crowns before Lakers fans could begin to feel that the former Chicago Bulls coaching legend was really theirs. Torre is never going to reach that level in Los Angeles, and the people here intuitively know this. It’s noteworthy that the single act Torre might be most remembered for as Dodgers manager could be coaxing the greatest Los Angeles Dodger of them all, Sandy Koufax, into a rare public conversation earlier this year…

Things might have been different if the Dodgers had been able to take advantage of their chances to even the 2008 and 2009 NLCS at two games apiece. But Torre’s magic couldn’t save Los Angeles those years, and now the odds are against him doing any more.

“My feeling is that Torre won in New York because of an unlimited payroll, though he couldn’t do it every year,” another Dodger Thoughts commenter said. “That’s not necessarily to say he’s bad under a more financially constrained regime, but I consider him replaceable in every aspect except his celebrity (which he owes to his time in New York City). I would not miss him, but I’d like to see him go out with a World Series championship – which, however, would probably bring a clamor for him to stay.”

Since leaving New York, Torre has had to face a legacy not of success but of late-career failure. After setting himself up with impossible standards, Torre hasn’t won anything since 2000. A bitter defeat in 2001 wasn’t really his fault, but both the World Series defeat in 2003 and the ALCS collapse in 2004 bore his managerial signatures. A post-New York tell-all memoir didn’t endear him to fans who demand nothing short of a World Series trophy every year. If he retires after this season, he will be feted in New York, but we continue to grapple with the complexities of the Torre Years.

A few thousand miles closer to New York but years removed from Torre, another ex-Yankee manager is calling it quits after this season plays out. Late last month, Sweet Lou announced his intentions to depart from Chicago after the 2010 campaign. Piniella got his managerial start in New York in the mid-1980s, captured a World Series title in Cincinnati in 1990, and hasn’t been able to push the Mariners, Devils Rays or Cubs past the finish line. He’ll retire with over 1850 wins and three Manager of the Year awards.

When the Yanks picked Piniella to take over from Billy Martin in 1986, the choice was controversial. Lou had a fiery temper but no managerial experience, and few in the Yankee organization knew how this approach would play at the Big League level. He led the Yanks to a 90-72 second place finish and earned himself a two-year deal. Following the 1987 season, Piniella was promoted to GM while Martin returned until he was fired again in mid-June. Following the 1988 season, Piniella would be gone from the Bronx.

Over the years, Lou and the Yanks would be forever intertwined. As he headed up the Mariners from 1993-2002, a fierce East Coast/West Coast rivalry emerged. The Mariners stunned the Yanks in 1995, and the Yanks returned the favor in both 2000 and 2001. Piniella’s name briefly popped up when Joe Torre’s tenure ended, but the two sides never had their long-awaited reunion.

As these two men prepare for what comes next, both will be linked forever with the Yankees even if both left on less than ideal terms. As a player, Lou won some memorable titles, and as a manager, he served as the perfect foil for Joe Torre’s victorious Yankees. That they will probably retire at the same time is fitting indeed.

Honoring — and desiring — Sweet Lou

It’s no coincidence that the Yankees invited the Cubs to stop by Yankee Stadium this weekend. In fact, it appears to be part of a Hal Steinbrenner-inspired masterplan to lure current Cubs manager Lou Piniella into the Yankee fold.

Take a look at how Pull Sulivan of the Chicago Tribune reported the story:

The Yankees could have chosen any team to be their first opponent, but Yankees general partner Hal Steinbrenner wanted Piniella to be part of the opening festivities, so the Cubs were his first choice.

Steinbrenner has told close friends he plans on hiring Piniella as a consultant when his managerial contract with the Cubs runs out after the 2010 season.

Sounds like a good plan to me. Bringing Sweet Lou aboard the Yankee ship after his managerial career is over would strengthen the Yankee Front Office and return a man who spent 11 years playing and another two-and-a-half managing the Yanks to the Bronx fold.