Although it won’t impact the 2010 playoff race, the retirement of Cubs manager Lou Piniella certainly qualifies as high profile news. Piniella’s 23 years as manager makes him one of only 21 managers in MLB history to manage for at least 20 years, and ties him for the 13th most years as manager with a pair of Hall of Famers in Walter Alston and Harry Wright. The only eligible manager with more time than Piniella to miss the Hall of Fame is Gene Mauch, who is also the only one without a pennant or World Series title.
Piniella won his one and only World Series championship in 1990 with the Cincinnati Reds, his first year with the team after a playoff-free three year stint with the New York Yankees. Those Reds were led primarily by Mariano Duncan, Chris Sabo, Barry Larkin, and Eric Davis at the plate, along with a solid rookie performance from Hal Morris. The pitching staff was led by a fantastic season by Jose Rijo (3.14 FIP, 148 ERA+) and solid bullpen performances from Randy Myers, Norm Charlton, and Rob Dibble. The Reds opened the season with a nine game winning streak and never looked back, winning the NL West by five games, and then steamrolled through the Pirates in the NLCS and then the Athletics in the World Series.
The next two seasons saw a World Series champion finish under .500 and then a second place finish, and Piniella was out of Cincinnati on to his longest and most famous managing job in Seattle. Despite the fact that Piniella’s Mariners boasted such talents as Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, Alex Rodriguez, and Ichiro Suzuki, they never reached a World Series. In Piniella’s 10 seasons in Seattle, the Mariners reached the playoffs four times, including three division championships and two division series victories. Piniella also was at the helm for the Mariners 116 win season in 2001, a remarkable feat despite the first round exit that season.
The next stop of Piniella’s career is mostly the butt of jokes, as Sweet Lou moved to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, managing in his hometown. As the pre-Andrew Friedman era went in Tampa, the Devil Rays under Piniella were terrible teams. In three years of managing, Piniella’s Devil Rays finished in 5th twice and in 4th once, compiling an overall 200-285 record and at least 90 losses in each season.
Piniella’s final position in Chicago began well enough, with two division titles. But the Cubs were swept in the first round each time, only increasing the disappointment of a fanbase entering its second century without a world championship. As the core players in Chicago have aged and albatross contracts have prevented the infusion of new, impact free agent talent into the team, the situation in Chicago deteriorated to the point at which it is today – the Cubs are on pace to lose 96 times in 2010.
No doubt, this is a disappointing end for Piniella, who is known as much for the accomplishments of his teams as he is for his antics on the field. Between his seven playoff appearances, .517 winning percentage, World Championship ring, and most importantly, the longevity and visibility of his career, I have little doubt that Piniella will take a place in Cooperstown. Piniella was a fantastic personality, and the game of baseball will certainly miss Sweet Lou.