CHICAGO, UNITED STATES // Just like a long line of predecessors, Lou Piniella thought he could lead the Chicago Cubs to an elusive championship and end a drought that dates back to 1908. Barring an epic turnaround, he can forget about that. Piniella announced this week that he will retire after 18 years in the major leagues as a player and another 22 as a manager, ending a long and colourful career.
He made five trips to the World Series and has three championship rings. He trails only Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre in victories among active managers. "I've grown to love the city and the fans but at my age it will be time to enter a new phase in my life," Piniella said in a statement released by the team. He said there were several reasons for making the announcement now, rather that the end of the season.
"First of all, I get asked all the time. I don't want to mislead anybody about my intentions," he said. "At the same time, more important, it gives [general manager] Jim Hendry ample opportunity to find a new manager for this organisation and he can do it where he doesn't have to be secretive about it, or anything else." Piniella, 66, said he sees hope for the Cubs, a team who have gone more than a century without winning the World Series.
"Sooner or later, they'll break that barn door down and win a world championship," he said. That was the plan when Chicago hired Piniella after the 2006 season. The Cubs won the National League Central in 2007 and 2008 before things fell apart. They missed the play-offs last season and are 43-52 this year, seemingly out of contention. Known for his dirt-kicking tirades as a manager, Piniella had mellowed with Chicago. But he made it clear he was tired of the daily grind, although he said he would consider working as a consultant for the Cubs or some other club.
"I enjoy this game, I really do," he said. "So that would be a good way to stay involved, but not in an everyday basis. It could be anywhere. There are no plans one way or another." Piniella began managing in 1986 with the New York Yankees, where he lasted three years, including a stint as general manager. He managed the Cincinnati Reds from 1990-92, leading them to a World Series championship in his first season.
After Cincinnati, Piniella had a long run in Seattle, where his teams won at least 90 games four times including a 116-win season in 2001. Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees slugger who played for Piniella with the Mariners, called him "a Hall of Fame manager and a great player." Now, after three tough years in Tampa Bay and two in Chicago after that promising start, Piniella's career will most likely end on a disappointing note.
"Everybody knows he's not going to let up," Marlon Byrd, the Cubs All-Star outfielder, said. "It's Lou Piniella. Have you seen one year where he's let up in his playing career or his managing career?" As a player, Piniella was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1969 after batting .282 with 11 home runs and 68 RBIs with the Kansas City Royals. He was traded to the Yankees in 1973 and ended his playing career with New York in 1984.
Speculation is already building about who might replace Piniella next season. Joe Girardi, the Yankees manager and the man Piniella beat for the Cubs job, has an expiring contract. So does Joe Torre in Los Angeles. Bob Brenly, who managed Arizona to a championship in 2001 and interviewed with the Cubs four years ago, is in the team's broadcast booth. Alan Trammell, the bench coach and Larry Rothschild, the pitching coach, have both managed in the majors.
There is also a popular choice at Triple-A Iowa, where Ryne Sandberg, the Cubs Hall of Famer, is managing, and Hendry, the general manager, said the former MVP is in the running. "He's done a very good job in the system the past four years," Hendry said. "I have a lot of respect for the way he's handled himself. A Hall of Fame player working in the minor leagues, he deserves to be a candidate." Sandberg confirmed he is interested in the position. "I need to focus on what I'm doing here in Des Moines with these players and what my job is right now," he said. "If the time came, if I was considered for that job in Chicago, I think that'd be a terrific thing just to be considered. The whole goal of any minor leaguer is to get to the major leagues, and I think that includes coaches and managers like myself."