Cubs manager Lou Piniella waves to the crowd as he walks to the dugout before the start of Sunday's game against the Atlanta Braves, his final game as Cubs manager.
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Lou Piniella said he "didn't think my career would end this way."
No doubt that was true on so many levels Sunday.
A winner as a player and manager throughout a half-century in baseball, Piniella went home after his Cubs dropped a sloppy 16-5 decision to the Atlanta Braves at Wrigley Field.
Interestingly, the Braves beat the Cubs by that same score on Opening Day this year in Atlanta.
After Sunday's game, in a dungeon of an interview room Piniella won't miss, he let the tears flow freely.
"This is a final final," he said before getting emotional. "Today's game wasn't pretty, but I'd rather reflect on the good times I've had here. A lot of good times, a lot of good people. Yeah, it's been a lot of fun. That pregame with (outgoing Braves manager) Bobby Cox was special. He's been a good friend for a long time.
"I appreciate my four years here from the Cub organization. The city's special. The people here are special, and I'm appreciative. I cried a little bit after the game. This will be the last time I put on my uniform. It's been very special."
Piniella, who will turn 67 on Saturday, sped up his retirement to be with his ailing mother in Tampa, Fla. On July 20, Piniella said he would step down after the season, but concern for his mother's health apparently became too great.
Since the original announcement that he is retiring, Piniella has taken leave twice, once to attend the funeral of his uncle and the other to tend to his mother. He missed a total of seven games.
Third-base coach Mike Quade will manage the Cubs for the rest of the season and will be a candidate to manage the team going forward.
For Piniella, family considerations trumped all.
"She hasn't gotten any better since I've been here," he said of his mother. "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."
Piniella managed the Cubs for almost four full seasons, compiling a record of 316-293, including National League Central titles in 2007 and 2008. Last year's club finished 83-78, but the bottom fell out this year, with the Cubs owning a record of 51-74 with a team that has 10 rookies on the roster.
Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said he talked with Piniella after Saturday's game, and the decision was made Saturday night.
Hendry hired Piniella in the fall of 2006, after the Cubs went 66-96 under manager Dusty Baker. Both men were asked whether thought was given to allowing Piniella to go home for good last month, when he announced his retirement.
Piniella said no, that he thought he could finish the season.
"He deserved the respect that the organization gave him," Hendry said. "I knew things were bothering him, that were hard on him off the field. I did talk to him about if he felt like he needed to (go home), but being the competitor he's always been, I think in his heart he really wanted to finish it out.
"He had a lot of conversations with me about moving forward the last couple months. He had told me awhile back that he wasn't going to come back next year even if we won every game. He knew then it was time; this was going to be it for his family.
"Once we talked about it right around the all-star break, I think he really felt in his heart good about finishing the year and doing it in good fashion. Then, obviously, his mother has become ill the last few months."
Piniella and Cox shook hands at home plate before the game as each brought out his team's lineup card. The crowd of 37,518 saluted both men with warm ovations, and Piniella was given another hand when he went out to make his first pitching change of the day.
Player after player expressed respect for Piniella and his legacy.
"It's been a rough year for everyone, but it's been a real rough year for him," pitcher Ryan Dempster said. "Dealing with family issues and dealing with your mom are something none us ever want to go through. I'm happy for him he gets to go be with her."
Catcher Koyie Hill noted that the team has lost a manager and players Derrek Lee, Mike Fontenot, Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot through recent trades.
"He's given his life to the game; we all appreciate that," Hill said. "We've lost a lot of good people this year."