CHICAGO (AP) After all the wins, all the losses and all those arguments, Lou Piniella clearly felt it was time to leave.
Saying the final goodbye after a half-century in baseball, that was the hard part.
“I cried a little bit after the game. You get emotional. I’m sorry, I’m not trying to be,” the Chicago Cubs manager said Sunday, his eyes tearing up again and his voice cracking.
“This will be the last time I put on my uniform,” he said.
The 66-year-old Piniella announced before the Cubs-Atlanta game that he was retiring immediately after it was over and planning to spend more time with his ailing mother.
“My mom needs me home and that’s where I’m going,” Piniella said.
The Cubs didn’t do him many favors on the field in his wrapup, losing 16-5 to the Braves. He was in the dugout when it ended, and he waved his hat across the field to his friend, longtime Atlanta manager Bobby Cox, who has said this is his last season.
The Cubs gave up 11 runs over the final three innings to fall 23 games under .500. Many in the crowd of 37,518 had already left Wrigley Field when Sam Fuld grounded into a game-ending double play.
“It’s a good day to remember and also it’s a good day to forget,” Piniella said.
Third base coach Mike Quade was promoted to interim manager, getting the nod over bench coach Alan Trammell, who was thought to have been a candidate to succeed Piniella next season. But general manager Jim Hendry said Trammell was not going to be considered for the job, so Quade was selected to finish out the season. Speculation is rampant that former Cubs star Ryne Sandberg, now their Triple-A manager, will be hired.
From the start, it was an emotional day for a man known for his fiery ways as a player, manager and executive for 48 years.
Piniella teared up at home plate when the umpires wished him well with his mom. He shook hands with Cox after they reached the plate, hugged each other and exchanged back slaps as Piniella’s No. 41 was posted on the center-field scoreboard.
Cox was announced to the crowd and took his cap off and waved it to the fans.
Then the public address announcer ran down Piniella’s achievements as he stood at the plate, and scattered cheers of “Louuu” could be heard throughout the crowd.
After Piniella and Cox posed for a picture with the umpires, the managers hugged each other again. Piniella then headed to the dugout and, as the cheers got louder, took off his cap, waved it to the crowd and began to clap for the fans.
When Piniella made the first of three trips to the mound in the seventh inning to change pitchers, fans behind the dugout gave him a standing ovation as he came off the field and he acknowledged them with a little wave of his hand.
Piniella said last month he planned to retire at the end of the season and reiterated his plans just Saturday. But he missed four games in August to be with his mom in Florida and decided this weekend his divided attention wasn’t helping anyone.
“She hasn’t gotten any better since I’ve been here,” said Piniella, who turns 67 on Saturday. “She’s had a couple other complications, and rather than continue to go home, come back, it’s not fair to the team, it’s not fair to the players. So the best thing is just to step down and go home and take care of my mother.”
The surprising announcement was made in a team handout Sunday morning after Piniella had repeatedly insisted he would finish the season. Cox empathized with his counterpart.
“It’s in your blood that long, but Lou’s mom is in ill health,” Cox said before the game. “It’s a sad day for me because I kept on thinking that Lou would be back, not here but somewhere else.”
Piniella met with his team to let them know he was leaving and it was very emotional, despite the Cubs’ terribly disappointing season – two years after they had the best record in the NL.
“I wish we would’ve played better for him,” reliever Sean Marshall said.
“You hate to see stuff like that. You hate to see a grown man kind of tear up like that, it just shows his heart for winning and his drive for baseball and his family.”
Piniella finished with an overall record was 1,835-1,713. He trailed only Tony La Russa, Cox and Joe Torre in victories among active managers.
Piniella’s record with the Cubs was 316-293. Under the mellowed skipper, Chicago won consecutive NL Central titles in 2007-08, but missed the playoffs last year and slipped back even further this season with a new owner, Tom Ricketts, in charge.
“I’ve enjoyed it here,” Piniella said. “In four wonderful years I’ve made a lot of friends and had some success here, this year has been a little bit of a struggle. But, look. Family is important, it comes first.”
In 18 years in the majors as a player – he had a .291 career batting average – and another 23 as a manager, Piniella made five trips to the World Series and has three championship rings. He began his professional playing career in 1962.
“It’s a very tough day for him, very emotional,” Hendry said of the man he hired four years ago to replace Dusty Baker. “There has been some times the last couple of months where he knew his family was possibly going to need him. He certainly didn’t want to go out before the end of the year, but it’s just at the point now where he need to be home with his mother and his family.”
Piniella began managing in 1986 with the Yankees and lasted three years, including a stint as general manager. He managed the Reds from 1990-92, leading them to a World Series championship in his first season. He also got national attention during his time there for a clubhouse wrestling match with reliever Rob Dibble, who downplayed the incident and said “we’ve been family ever since.”
After Cincinnati, Piniella had a long run in Seattle, where his teams won at least 90 games four times and 116 in 2001. The three-time manager of the year also spent three seasons in Tampa Bay’s dugout, but he questioned his hometown team’s commitment to winning at the time before the team bought out the final year of his four-year contract.
The Cubs won 97 games under Piniella in 2008, but were swept out of the playoffs for the second straight year and it’s been mostly downhill since that successful run.
What Chicago fans saw for the most part was a more reserved Piniella, although he did have one dirt-kicking meltdown with umpire Mark Wegner early in his first season and soon thereafter the Cubs took off and eventually overtook the Milwaukee Brewers to win the NL Central in 2007.
Piniella joined the Cubs after doing some TV work, looking for a final challenge and hoping – like so many before him – that he would be the manager to bring the Cubs a long-awaited championship. The Cubs’ last World Series appearance came in 1945, their last World Series winner in 1908. It didn’t happen, despite the promising first two seasons.
“It’s a tough job. But, look. I mean. They’re going to win here. They’ve got a family-owned business now,” Piniella said.
Piniella said he would look back later. He added that he no future plans, other than to tend to his family and relax.
“I’ll have plenty of time to reflect, I will,” he said.
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