Cubs’ Piniella gets emotional after he manages final game
Summing up his last day in uniform after 48 years in baseball proved to be more difficult than taking it off.
“I cried a little bit after the game ... I get emotional, I’m sorry,” Piniella said Sunday in the cramped Wrigley Field interview room for the final time. “It’s a good day to remember, and also it’s a good day to forget.”
It was a day of mixed emotions that began with the Cubs announcing Piniella was retiring effective today to return home to Florida to care for his ailing 90-year-old mother, Margaret, and ended with an ugly 16-5 loss to the Braves.
Before the game, Piniella delivered the news to his team in a moving speech about the importance of family and got misty-eyed acknowledging the crowd of 37,518 after exchanging lineup cards with Braves manager Bobby Cox.
Afterward, Piniella laughed and cried reflecting on his four seasons with the Cubs working in a ballpark he called “probably the most fun place in Major League Baseball.”
The final Cubbie occurrence for Piniella may have come when he was asked, after an 11-run defeat that marked his team’s 74th loss, if the day represented his best ever in baseball.
“It’s been very special,” Piniella said.
Indeed, on his last day in baseball, he was Bittersweet Lou Piniella.
Piniella felt happy about pleasing his family but sad about disappointing the Cubs, right about fulfilling his responsibilities at home but wrong about falling short of them at work.
Forgive Cubs fans if they were similarly ambivalent or had little emotion left to invest in another goodbye to Lou. After a week that included sendoffs to the organization’s most popular player, Derrek Lee, and now its manager, the Cubs are running out of gold watches.
Everyone ran out of patience a long time ago.
Piniella’s final day in a Cubs uniform really should have been July 20, when he announced his retirement. But Piniella originally wanted to stay until Oct. 3 in order to finish what he started, and the Cubs obliged out of respect for his Hall of Fame career.
In retrospect, the slow, painful process of disassembling a team with a $145 million payroll taxed Piniella professionally almost as much as his mother’s health has worn on him personally.
For everybody’s sake, the dugout probably was the last place Piniella should have been the last month. That takes nothing away from a managing career that included 1,835 wins and one day likely will land Piniella in Cooperstown, N.Y.
He is the 14th-winningest manager in major league history with a World Series ring from the 1990 Reds team he managed. Even if Piniella did most of his winning before he arrived in Wrigleyville, has a more accomplished Cubs manager ever stood on the top step of the home dugout?
Piniella’s legacy with the Cubs always will be tied to being the first guy to lead the team to back-to-back playoff appearances, but careful not to exaggerate his historic impact. Revisionist historians repeated the notion Sunday that Piniella “raised the bar,” for the Cubs, but that’s not entirely accurate or fair to his predecessor, Dusty Baker.
Expectations changed Cubs culture most dramatically after the 2003 season under Baker, not after 2007 or ’08 under Piniella, and credit Jim Hendry for making that distinction briefly as he otherwise lathered Piniella with deserved praise.
What both Piniella and Baker shared was the hefty reputation they brought to the job, a marquee quality nobody should expect the next Cubs manager to possess.
Dusty. Lou. Something tells me you will have to call whomever Hendry hires in October by his first and last names so baseball fans know who he is. The Ricketts Era could mark the end of the celebrity manager at Clark and Addison.
Could that mean no “Ryno”? Sure. If the Cubs believed Ryne Sandberg had the inside track at being their next manager, don’t you think he would have been given the shot to manage the final 37 games instead of Mike Quade?
Given the parameters for the next manager outlined by a source close to the search process, Piniella’s successor will be a young, hands-on teacher who is as likely to follow a spreadsheet analysis as his gut. Out with instinct, in with integers, and strategists must value statistics even more.
You might say the Cubs are in the midst of fully converting to baseball’s sabermetric system.
If the next manager has an established name, great. But those guys also cost money. It’s hard to imagine the new ownership regime taking measures to streamline a bloated payroll doling out $5 million a year for someone to fill out the lineup. The reality of that trend may not bode well for those hoping to see Joe Girardi change his pinstripes from Yankees navy blue to Cubbies royal blue.
“I don’t have a front-runner,” Hendry said. “To label anyone as the favorite right now would be absolutely foolish.”
It would be equally foolish to think Piniella’s successor will appreciate the opportunity more than he did. Ironic that, on his last day on the job, the guy who occasionally sounded like an outsider to Cubdom never felt more like he belonged.
The crowd was chanting “LOUUUUU,” and not “BOOOOO,” right?
“It was a nice tribute,” Piniella said. “I was very appreciative, very moved, very touched. I want to thank everybody. I won’t have to make any more explanations to you people.”
With that Piniella chuckled and wiped away another tear before one of baseball’s great managers walked off to be a good son.
David Haugh writes for the Chicago Tribune.