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Tom McEwen

The late Tom McEwen, sports editor of The Tampa Times from 1958-62 before being named sports editor of The Tampa Tribune in 1962, graced the Tribune sports section with his award-winning column, The Morning After, and his Breakfast Bonus notes columns were a signature offering from the 19-time Florida Sports Writer of the Year. McEwen died in June, 2011 at the age of 88. His wife, Linda, occasionally contributes past columns and exerpts to this blog.

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West Tampa Lou ready to return

Posted Jul 20, 2010 by Tom McEwen

Updated Jul 20, 2010 at 08:33 PM

Took the time Tuesday to drive around West Tampa, among its cigar factories, the average residences of those of the long residing families there, so many of them traceable to their ancestries in Asturias, Spain. Many of them are still the original neighborhoods that sprung up among those who moved to Tampa to work in the cigar factories there, and soon built the large numbers of youth baseball fields. Baseball, from the West Tampa beginnings, has been a big part of the family activities there. Some of Tampa’s notable big league baseball players trace their beginnings to those ball yards— Tony LaRussa, Tino Martinez, Richard Monteleone, and the patriarch, Al Lopez.

The kids are still playing baseball there and the cigar and Latin influence still can be seen all around.

Another of those West Tampa products, Lou Piniella, announced he is calling it career today.

I once called Lou Piniella’s mother and in the conversation mentioned that her big league son had shone a spate of temper the day before on a televised game and she shouted into the phone: “WHAT TEMPER?”

Lou did have a temper as a player and a manager all of his years in the bigs, as well as a tendency to relax somewhat, when not angry, on the field. He once, playing outfield for the University of Tampa Spartans , caught a fly ball in his glove that smashed the salami and tomato sandwich he had there and of which he would take bites when he could. The fly ball interrupted his meal but not his baseball.

He caught the ball, he would do that.

In a celebrated game in the big leagues as a New York Yankee manager, Piniella disagreed vigorously with an umpire’s decision, he argued face to face with the ump for a time, then picked up a base bag and kicked it all over the field and was, of course, told to leave the game, he picked the bag up and flung it across the diamond, he did leave eventually.

He did have a temper which he showed at Tampa Jesuit, at the University of Tampa, with the Seattle, with the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays. The fans, the reporters, television narrators, and other baseball chroniclers loved those tirades. So did Lou, but not his mother, nor his father, he also had said he had no temper.

West Tampa remains rich in its baseball history and frankly, those who know of that history feel it in their bones when they drive the streets. Baseball fields are everywhere and the kids still play it with enthusiasm.

Lou Piniella has never forgotten those roots, he has always cherished them as he does the old baseball landmarks there, just up Himes Avenue from Al Lopez Field, from George Steinbrenner Field, Jefferson and Jesuit High Ballparks. Lou has said to me repeatedly how the patriarch, Lopez, affected him and kept him fascinated with the sport. So now, Lou Piniella has said he is leaving the Chicago Cubs he manages now at the end of the season, declaring he has not done the job he set out to do. That would be Piniella’s opinion, he would not pass the blame to anyone else. Piniella’s career has been enormously successful, as with so many of those major league baseball stars who thrived on the youth fields in West Tampa of his youth. Piniella was an outfielder who married his childhood sweetheart, Anita. They have always remained residents of Tampa and will continue to be in the future. He is presently number 14 on the list of big league managerial wins and Sweet Lou as he was known, tongue in cheek of course, and Anita plan to return to Tampa when the season ends, to renew their lifelong friendships with Malio and Carmine Iavarone and Mandy Flores, among so many others. Don’t know anyone who ever resented anything about this enthusiastic athlete. His tirades were appreciated by his Tampa associates because they knew the temper he had but when the moment passed he genuinely became Sweet Lou again.

West Tampa, indeed all of Tampa, indeed all of Florida, all of America can be proud that this man, Lou Piniella, the child of immigrant Spaniards, became what he became, a hallmark American baseball star whose misdeeds were little more that temporary fits of anger in a sport that spawns such behavior, none better, none intended, none permanent, little more than a smashed sandwich in an outfielder’s glove or a comic conversation piece, or a television tirade. Lou never meant any of it.

Lou Piniella, believe me, was is and always will be an American sports athlete whose life we can all today toast.

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