On September 4, 1964, Lou Piniella -- having just turned 21 years old -- made his major league debut for the Baltimore Orioles in an otherwise nondescript 7-1 loss to the Angels. The Orioles were in first place at the time; they wound up finishing third, two games out of first place.
And Lou, just recalled from Baltimore's team in the old Northern League (a different league than the current incarnation), pinch-hit for Hall of Famer Robin Roberts and grounded out.
Forty-six years later, Lou retires from baseball as the 14th winningest manager in major league history with 1835 wins, a World Series title as a manager, two rings as a player, and an American League Rookie of the Year award (with the Royals in 1969). With the Cubs, Lou finishes eighth among all North Side managers with 316 wins (six fewer than Dusty Baker), and with the highest winning percentage (.519, tied with Jim Frey) of any Cubs manager since Charlie Grimm last managed in 1960.
Lou didn't win here, and I and others have criticized many of his lineup selections, strategic choices and bullpen use. But he is the most successful Cubs manager in my lifetime, with two straight division titles and three straight winning years; he was unable to leave us with the championship we so long for.
An emotional Lou held his final postgame press conference and was moved to tears, thanking everyone in the organization and Cubs fans for his almost four years at the helm. He again mentioned, as he has done before, that he didn't quite realize what he was getting into when he came here, having never been in the Cubs organization nor played in Chicago except as a visiting player. He implied that his successor will need such experience -- again, a strong hint that Ryne Sandberg will be the guy.
For those of you who criticized Lou for leaving this way in previous threads today, shame on you. In his pre-game remarks, Lou said:
"Didn’t think my career would end this way but, you know, my mom needs me home. She hasn’t gotten any better since I’ve been here. 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. That’s basically it. I’ve enjoyed it here. 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. My mom needs me home and that’s where I’m going. I thought that I could finish out the season. I thought at that time that we could still win a division. It hasn’t worked out that way. At the same, time my mother’s health came into the equation and things have changed. But, no, I didn’t think that going home in, when was it? July. It’s only been a month. A month ago. A lot of things have changed in a month."
Lou's a human being. His uncle passed away, a man who was like a father to him. Now his mother is quite ill, though I understand she rallied a bit when Lou told her he was coming home tomorrow to stay. What if she had died before the season ended and Lou hadn't been there with her? He has absolutely made the right decision. I think at times people forget that these are human beings with real lives outside of baseball who we watch play every day. They are more than numbers on a spreadsheet or managers we complain about.
Third base coach Mike Quade will take over for the rest of the season; he has been told that he will be considered for the fulltime job next year. Speculation on my part: Alan Trammell may have been offered this slot first, but when told (as has been reported) that he would NOT be considered for 2011, he may have turned the interim slot down.
Further speculation: Quade is getting six weeks' major league managing experience, with quite a few games against contending teams. If Ryne Sandberg is in fact hired as manager, Quade would perhaps get strong consideration to be his bench coach. Both Sandberg and Quade have managed in the organization for many years; Quade managed at Iowa from 2003-2007, when he became the major league third base coach. I'll have a longer post about Quade tomorrow morning.
The Cubs lost to the Braves 16-5 this afternoon on a gorgeous late-summer afternoon at Wrigley Field; oddly enough, that's the same score and opponent as this year's Opening Day game in Atlanta. There isn't much to say about the game itself, only that the coincidental team and score seem a fitting bookend on Lou Piniella's final season as Cubs manager; it also was a nice scene to honor both Lou and Braves manager Bobby Cox in his final game at Wrigley in a small ceremony at home plate before the game.
We move on. Lou moves on. Best to Lou and his family.