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Piniella Latest to Leave Mariners

October 15, 2002

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SEATTLE (AP) _ Lou Piniella is leaving the Seattle Mariners, the latest marquee name in a recent exodus that’s included Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson and Alex Rodriguez.

The New York Mets and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays are said to be interested in hiring the Mariners’ manager. Piniella has said he wants to stay closer to his Tampa, Fla., home, and he has a history in New York, with the Yankees.

The Mets said they would make a statement Tuesday afternoon about their possible interest in Piniella.

The Mariners agreed to release Piniella from the final year of his contract, allowing him to leave Seattle after a 10-year span when he elevated the team into baseball’s upper tier.

``It’s fair to say we have parted as good and warm friends,″ chief executive Howard Lincoln said Monday. ``Even more than our players, he epitomized the Seattle Mariners. He was so helpful. His presence was so important in saving major league baseball for Seattle and the Pacific Northwest.″

Piniella didn’t return several messages left at his home.

Mariners officials ``understand what I’m trying to do,″ Piniella told The Tampa Tribune. ``It’s just too far to be in Seattle. It’s a burden on me, on my family. It’s just too far from home.″

The 59-year-old Piniella has parents and grandchildren in the Tampa area.

He approached Lincoln about leaving the Mariners during a season-ending road trip in Anaheim. He met Friday in Tampa with Lincoln, team president Chuck Armstrong and general manager Pat Gillick.

Lincoln and Armstrong called Piniella again on Monday.

``We reiterated our mutual friendship and respect, that we were disappointed he wasn’t coming back, that based on what he told us in Tampa Bay there was a pressing and real need to live and work closer to his family in Tampa Bay. We understood and we were sympathetic,″ Lincoln said.

Piniella managed Seattle for the past 10 seasons, taking a perennial no-name team to three straight playoff trips and a record-tying 116 victories in 2001.

Seattle won 93 games this season but finished third in the AL West behind Oakland and Anaheim, and expectations are sure to be high again next spring for a team that has led the majors in attendance two straight years.

Piniella spent three years managing the Yankees, and won a World Series with the Cincinnati Reds in 1990.

Gillick will oversee the search for a successor, but Lincoln declined to say much about what kind of candidate they’re seeking. There’s no timetable, but the team plans to hire someone before the winter meetings.

``We want to get the best person for this particular job, this baseball team, this ballpark,″ Lincoln said. ``Pat Gillick is focusing on a person who can handle the players we have now, the strengths and weaknesses of our team as it exists.″

Teams will be allowed to interview Piniella after ``appropriate and reasonable compensation″ is arranged, Lincoln said. He declined to elaborate, but compensation is believed to involve money or players.

The Devil Rays and Mets said they need some time to decide whether to pursue Piniella, whose career record of 1,319-1,135 includes a mark of 840-711 with Seattle.

``We are going to reserve further comment until we have time to digest it,″ Mets spokesman Jay Horwitz said.

The New York Daily News, citing sources, reported that Mets owner Fred Wilpon spoke to Armstrong 15 minutes after Seattle’s announcement to discuss parameters of a possible deal. The New York Post and Newsday also reported that the Mets called the Mariners.

The last time Seattle went looking for a new manager was in 1992, needing a replacement for Bill Plummer.

Some reports in Seattle have focused on Dusty Baker, who has guided the San Francisco Giants to the World Series. Other possibilities include Mariners bench coach John McLaren or pitching coach Bryan Price.

Veteran managers Bobby Valentine, Don Baylor and Davey Johnson are available.

If Gillick chooses to recycle a former major league manager, he could ask his old pal, Cito Gaston. Together at Toronto, they won World Series championships in 1992 and 1993.

``We want to take our time and be very careful,″ Lincoln said. ``This is a major decision for the Mariners.″

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