CHICAGO — 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.
Piniella finished with an overall record of 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 National League 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.”