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.
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Piniella, 66, managed the Seattle Mariners for a decade, from 1993-2002. He compiled an 840-711 record in Seattle with four postseason appearances and led the Mariners to a record-tying 116 wins in 2001.
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, 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 on 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.
Piniella finished with a 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 further this season.
The most wins by managers who were active this season, with overall ranking in career wins:
Tony La Russa 2,619-2,271 3
Bobby Cox 2,486-1,981 4
Joe Torre 2,309-1,977 5
Lou Piniella 1,835-1,713 14
Jim Leyland 1,473-1,500 21
Dusty Baker 1,386-1,265 26