Lou Piniella came up for four games with the Baltimore Orioles in 1964. He didn’t make it back to the big leagues until a six-game stint with the Indians in 1968 followed by his rookie-of-the-year campaign with the Royals in 1969. Never again has more than one season of Major League Baseball transpired without the likes of Lou Piniella.
Lou last played with the Yankees in 1984 and took over as manager in 1986. His next year off was ’89 in between his time in New York and in Cincinnati, where he won the World Series in 1990. He didn’t miss a single game of the regular season in between his transitions from the Reds to the Mariners or from Seattle to Tampa. 2006 was the last year Lou Piniella didn’t have a full-time job with Major League Baseball, and even then he worked as an analyst for FOX.
Since he first started playing for the Selma Cloverleafs in 1962, Lou Piniella has made a living in the game of baseball. From 1962 to 2010, the man had three vacations from baseball: 1985, 1989, 2006. That’s it. He had a chance to do what he loved for nearly 50 years.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lou return to baseball in some capacity. I’d actually be shocked if he didn’t. People give Brett Favre a hard time about his indecision (or maybe just his passive-aggressive evasion of training camp, but that’s another story). Michael Jordan was roundly mocked for giving baseball a try. George Foreman couldn’t stop boxing or stop naming his children George . . . or grilling. Larry King can’t stop getting married.
It’s easy to make fun of people who hang on past their prime or risk making fools of themselves for one last shot at glory, but those who spend their entire adult lives doing what they love find the hardest thing in the world is to stop doing it.
So when Lou came to the realization that this was the last time he’d ever put on his uniform, he couldn’t stop the tears because the truth of his own words was tearing him apart. If he had his way, this isn’t how his career would have ended. The baseball part is obviously dismal, both this Cubs season and Lou’s last game (a 16-5 mockery of the sport he loves). His reason for leaving is infinitely more painful. Easy as it seems to walk away from a team this bad, I don’t envy anyone who says goodbye to doing what he loves so he can also say goodbye to a person he loves even more. That is the pain of mortality beating Lou to a pulp.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Lou never would have suffered pain severe enough to break through the surface in his final postgame press conference if he didn’t live a life so full of love. He loved his job. He loves his family. Love like that forges bonds not painlessly severed. Lou should be (and I’m sure is) proud of his career and pleased with the strength of his relationships. Lou has enjoyed a meaningful life.
But when you get to the part of life when many of the things you have enjoyed most are in your rearview mirror, the value of a moment comes into stark relief. All of us who witnessed Lou’s emotion yesterday should take notice: do not take a single day for granted. The people in your life aren’t here forever. And your opportunity to do what you do best will eventually fade.
If you’re doing what you love now, whether it’s for a living or a hobby or whatever, by all means enjoy every second of it. But if there’s something you would love to try and have been putting off until someday, don’t wait. The sharp pain of saying goodbye is nothing compared to the chronic ache of regret.