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Sweet Lou Puts on the Tears…Again

August 24, 2010

Yeah, we'll never see him put on a uniform again. I'm sure.

Pardon my skepticism on base-throwing Sweet Lou Piniella’s departure from the game of baseball. So let’s hold on from consuming all of those great tributes you were reading about his heart and guts and innards and fun tirades. Oh no! I’m sorry. I mean, of course, his mother’s sick, he needs a break, he choked up a lot; he and Bobby Cox, two pinnacles of how to get ejected from a Major League Baseball game had a great tearful “oh this is the last time two white guys with big ol’ guys in tighter uniforms will ever face each other” embrace over the weekend.

But, uh, Piniella’s retirement speech seems a little hollow. This was written following Sunday’s game against the Braves:

“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.

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.

(ESPN, 8/23/10)

Because, you know, back in Seattle in 2002, Piniella begged out of the last year of his contract citing some familial and health concerns:

With his heart increasingly torn between his team and his family over the second half of the 2002 baseball season, Lou Piniella made up his mind in the last week of games.

The Seattle manager and wife, Anita, who had made one of her increasingly rare visits to Seattle, got a call from home that daughter Kristi and her 4-year-old daughter Kassidy had been in an automobile accident.

Both were all right, but the accident heightened Piniella’s feeling that he needed to be closer to his family…

In June 2001, Anita lost her father, a man with whom Piniella was close. He took four days away from the team and went home to be with his family.

Piniella’s own father was hospitalized and believed near death during spring training last year, and again he left the team for a few days.

“You know, I might have managed another year there if family situations had not become more critical for me,” said Piniella, 59. “It all comes down to the distance. I could never get home without possibly affecting the team. If I’m closer I can get home on an off-day occasionally.

(Seattle Times, 10/15/02)

Tampa Bay was a slightly different issue, as the franchise wanted to replace him. But the feeling was the same as the other two: the teams weren’t doing well. As reported midway through the 2005 season:

For two and a half years with his hometown Devil Rays, Piniella has endured the agony of a dreadful team and the worst organization in Major League Baseball. As it has occasionally and understandably done before, the agony overwhelmed Piniella a week ago, and he erupted. He would not, however, provide an encore performance.

“I can’t talk about this anymore,” he said in a telephone interview the other day. “I said what I said and I’m done. I’m done.” Twice more, in response to questions and comments, he said, “I’m done.” Finally, he said: “I’ve got no more comment. I’m done. If you want to talk about the weather in Florida, I’ll talk about the weather. But I’m done.”

(New York Times, 6/19/05)

Of course, by the end of the season there were no hard feelings. Piniella even said that the team had some great young players coming up the pipeline and the team could be in for big things in the future. Quite true, Lou. And suck it, New York Times, with your “worst organization” declaration.

And there were tears then as well:

“There was plenty of handshaking and even a couple of tears afterward (following the loss to the Orioles in the final game of the 2005 season). The tears came from the manager’s office Lou Piniella occupied for the final time.”

(Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Oct 3, 2005)

But it’s hard to believe that the Devil Rays’ disasters during Piniella’s tenure weren’t most of the reason he wasn’t happy there. As he said, “Later on in your career, you look at the more successful managers – they are in places where they can win. That’s what I was hoping we’d do here when I came here.” Like the 2002 Mariners – with injuries and a late season collapse that saw them go 19-21 in their last 40 games – Piniella’s frustration with the team probably had a little something to do with his desire to be closer to his family. The Cubs’ destruction and rumors that he had “lost the clubhouse” was a more direct result, no doubt, to Piniella’s desire to walk away from the game that – as it’s repeated ad nauseum – he loves.

I imagine we’ll be seeing all of those heartfelt tributes to Piniella later on when he retires after managing the Florida Marlins to a, say, .500 record in 2015.

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