SEATTLE -- An emotional Lou Piniella teared up at times during his Mariners Hall of Fame luncheon on Friday at Safeco Field, as the franchise's winningest manager prepared to be inducted into its exclusive club on Saturday.
"It makes me proud in a very humble way," said Piniella, who managed and worked with most of the seven other members of the team's Hall of Fame during his decade of excellence in Seattle.
"I'm always thrilled to think about the memories and the fun we had for 10 years," said Piniella, now 70 and retired in Florida. "It was a magical 10 seasons for me."
Piniella will be formally inducted into the Mariners Hall at Safeco Field in a ceremony starting at 5:30 p.m. PT, prior to the Mariners' 6:10 p.m. game against the White Sox.
"It's going to be hard for me, it really is, because these fans were just wonderful," Piniella said after Friday's luncheon. "They were so supportive and they played such an integral part in the success we had here. We led the Major Leagues in attendance here a few years in Seattle, and that speaks volumes.
"I was fortunate," he said. "They liked me and supported me and supported our team. It's so much more fun when you go into a ballpark packed with people as opposed to half empty. It's so much more fun to play and the competitive juices come out more. It's going to be hard for me. I'll tell a few stories and try to keep it light, but it's not easy. I'm not the best speaker in the world as it is and I am emotional. So it's easy for me to get teary-eyed."
Piniella warmed up for that reception at Friday's luncheon, tears filling his eyes as he thanked "the best fans in baseball" and said his family "simply fell in love with Seattle" after expressing initial reluctance at his decision to take a job across the country for a franchise that had never been to the playoffs and had just one winning season prior to his arrival in 1993.
But Piniella changed the entire baseball culture, inheriting a team that went 64-98 the year before under Bill Plummer and going 82-80 in his first season before earning four playoff berths -- still the only four postseason appearances in club history -- and seven winning seasons.
"My only regret is we never went to the World Series here," he said. "There is no other regret that I have here at all. We did everything that we set out to do except to get to the World Series, and I hope Lloyd [McClendon] and his group can get that done here in short order. I'm rooting for them."
Piniella will join Alvin Davis, Dave Niehaus, Jay Buhner, Edgar Martinez, Randy Johnson, Dan Wilson and Ken Griffey Jr. as the eighth member of the club's Hall.
Wilson, one of several speakers at Friday's luncheon, recalled Piniella's run-ins with umpires, his unforgettable mannerisms and impromptu hitting sessions in hotel rooms and clubhouse shower facilities. But Wilson said Piniella's "passion and compassion" were his most memorable characteristics.
"Lou has done some crazy stuff, but it's all because he had a drive to win," said Wilson. "And is there a better trait for a manager?"
Piniella never stopped working and loved his late-night sessions with coaches and players. Whenever the moment struck, he'd pick up a bat and talk hitting with anyone willing to listen.
"It's called passion," Piniella said. "You're doing something you enjoy. That's what it is. There are teaching moments. You can do a teaching moment over a Jack Daniels and water. You really can."
Willie Bloomquist, the only current Mariner who played for Piniella, noted how his former skipper changed the culture of baseball in the region.
"They were going through a manager every couple of years until he got here," said Bloomquist. "He was kind of the mainstay for awhile and turned the expectations of this city around, and he obviously brought them to their first playoff appearance. Seattle had a personality when he was leading that ship.
"He was the old-school-type manager, and it created an atmosphere and reputation around here that put Seattle on the map. They were a team you couldn't take lightly. I think the city understands he led the group that kept baseball in this city. That means a lot."
Said John Ellis, the club's CEO when Piniella was hired: "He had and has to this day brought back the tradition of baseball in this city."
Piniella led the Mariners to their dramatic 1995 postseason run, and he was the skipper of the Major League record-setting 116-win team in 2001. Overall, Piniella posted a .542 record (840-711) and won three American League West crowns.
Piniella managed in the Major Leagues for 23 years and was named the AL Manager of the Year in 1995 and 2001 with Seattle, as well as the National League Manager of the Year in '08 with the Cubs. He retired in 2010 with a .517 career winning percentage, having guided the Yankees (1986-88), Reds (1990-92), Mariners (1993-02), Rays (2003-05) and Cubs (2007-10).
Piniella insists he's permanently retired now, done even with his part-time broadcast work with the Yankees. He says he loves traveling with his family and took a trip to Africa last year, as well as golfing and fishing. As for baseball, he watches now strictly as a fan.
"If I allow myself to get too deep into the game, then the competitive juices start flowing," he said. "And I can't afford to kick the screen and have to buy a new TV every time."