It certainly came as no surprise, at least to me, that Cubs manager Lou Piniella announced his retirement on Tuesday. Whether he stays retired remains to be seen but that's another matter for another day.
The reason I was not surprised is that I saw a marked difference in Piniella in the span of five weeks during the first half of the season. I caught up with him on June 1 and he looked every bit of his 66 years with dark circles under his eyes and gray stubble on his chin. He had clearly been beaten down by the Cubs' disappointing season that will almost certainly mark the franchise's 102ndconsecutive year without a World Series championship.
Yet Piniella was a different man a week ago Saturday after the Cubs beat the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium in the penultimate game before the All-Star break. Perhaps it was that his Cubs had won that day but whatever the reason, Piniella looked refreshed and relaxed. I couldn't help but wonder when I walked out of the visitors' clubhouse that day that perhaps Piniella had peace of mind because he knew this was going to his last season. He is in the final year of his contract and it was becoming obvious he wouldn't be asked back for 2011 by Tom Ricketts, the Cubs' new owner, but now Piniella can go out on his own terms.
Piniella's announcement leads to the logical question of whether he deserves to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Managers are considered only by the Veterans Committee.
Piniella has two very notable achievements on his managerial resume. He led the Reds to a wire-to-wire National League West title in 1990 and they went on to stun the heavily favored and defending champion Athletics with a sweep in the World Series. Piniella also guided the 2001 Mariners to a 116-46 mark, tying the major-league record for most victories in a season, though the year ended in disappointment as they lost to the Yankees in the ALCS.
His body of work as a manager is quite impressive as he has gone 1,823-1,691 in 23 seasons. He will finish 14thall-time in victories and 12thin games managed, and has won three Manager of the Year awards.
Piniella's playing career can also be considered by the Veterans Committee. While Piniella was not a star, he was a solid hitter as he had a .291/.333/.409 line with 102 home runs in 18 seasons from 1964-84, the final 11 spent with the Yankees. He was also the American League Rookie of the Year with the expansion 1969 Royals and was selected to one All-Star Game.
Piniella has never been considered the game's top manager as he has had the misfortune of being peers with such legendary skippers as Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre, who rank third, fourth and fifth on the all-time wins list. Piniella's infamous temper also caused him to look almost like a caricature at times, which detracted from his managerial acumen. However, of the 13 managers who have won more games than Piniella and are no longer active, only Gene Mauch has failed to get to Cooperstown but he also lost 135 more games than he won.
Piniella did not win as a neophyte manager with the Yankees and his three seasons with the Rays were a disaster, though it did bring attention to Vince Naimoli's poor ownership. However, Piniella is the only manager ever to take the Mariners to the postseason, led a Reds team that had gone 75-87 and endured the Pete Rose lifetime ban the season before to a World Series title and won NL Central titles in his first two season with the Cubs in 2007 and 2008.
It seems that it's going to be difficult to keep Sweet Lou out of the Hall, though he will likely have to wait until after Cox, Torre and La Russa are inducted before getting his due.