CHICAGO — Lou Piniella's long and colorful career has spanned 48 years, from an aggressive outfielder with a sharp batting eye to a successful manager whose highlight-reel base-throwing tantrums sometimes overshadowed his baseball acumen.
His family, from his relatives to his teammates and players, always has come first. And that's why the leader of the Chicago Cubs decided to step down after Sunday's game against the Atlanta Braves — he wants to spend more time with his ailing mother.
"My mom needs me home, and that's where I'm going," Piniella said before one last game in the dugout.
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.
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"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 — made in a team handout Sunday morning after Piniella had repeatedly insisted he would finish the season — led to a memorable scene at Wrigley Field, when Piniella brought the lineup card to home plate and greeted another retiring manager who's had a great run — Bobby Cox.
And 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 and Cox shook hands 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 as the cheers got louder, took off his cap, waved it to the crowd and then began to clap for the fans.
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 got the nod to finish out the season.
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.
"I've enjoyed it. It's a wonderful place to work and wonderful people to work with and for. To end a career in a place like Wrigley in a city like Chicago with these wonderful fans, I couldn't be more appreciative to the Cub organization."