Au Revoir, Sweet Lou

Goodbye, Lou. Thanks for leading the Cubs to three winning seasons and one worth leaving early.

Lou Piniella is about to manage his last game with the Cubs and probably his last ever. He’ll retire with more than 1,800 wins and more than 100 more wins over .500 as a manager. More importantly than where he’ll spend the rest of this season, he will be near his mother for the rest of his life. If you have ever been there for someone in their final moments, whether it’s for mere seconds or over the course of many long years, it is simultaneously painful and rewarding. (When anyone says that about being a Cubs fan, I hope they’re kidding. There is no comparison. Watching losing baseball is a mild annoyance. Losing someone you love redefines you.)

In baseball terms, Lou has been a great manager for the Cubs and the Rays and the Mariners and the Reds and the Yankees. But honestly, I don’t really know what that entails. It is strictly impossible to quantify what anyone else would have done with the teams Lou had. The people who didn’t manage his teams have nothing but what if‘s and would have‘s. Lou did it. No one can measure what someone else would have done in his place, but what you can measure is that for 3,548 games, an owner of a Major League Baseball team entrusted Lou to do the job.

What makes Lou better than Lee Elia, Jim Frey, Don Zimmer, Don Baylor, Dusty Baker, or anyone who managed the Cubs in between? No idea. Managers don’t win games. They don’t decide who wins. They make decisions you can never replicate or retry, you can only second guess. They influence the temperament of a baseball team. They give the media something to write and the fans something to talk about.

The bottom line is, they lead, and leading is a thankless job. No matter how good you do, people will always think of ways you could have led better. No matter who decides you’re the right person for the job, thousands more will disagree. Yes, if you win, many people will give you too much credit, but many more will point out that fact.

It doesn’t matter. The greatness of a leader comes with the task of accepting responsibility without credit, taking the blame with the glory, and staying out of the way of your team’s progress—all of it, ultimately, on your own. Lou was a great manager for doing what everyone else thought they could do better. Go ahead and run wild with your theories, your bar bets, and your blog arguments. What fans and talking heads debate in theory, Lou exercised in practice.

Well done, Lou. Thanks. God bless you and your family.

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