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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Piniella to exit game while leaving competitive mark behind

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You remember Lou Piniella yelling at umpires.

Torii Hunter remembers Lou Piniella yelling at him.

Lou Piniella always brought an in-your-face approach for every team he managed or played on. (Getty Images)  
Lou Piniella always brought an in-your-face approach for every team he managed or played on. (Getty Images)  
And if you're saying right now that Lou Piniella never managed Torii Hunter, you're right. But he did manage against him.

"He'd yell at the other team's players," Hunter said Tuesday. "He would curse me out. And then the next day we'd sit and talk. Lou was very competitive as a manager. I can only imagine what he must have been like as a player."

He was a good player. He was a better manager. And if you're looking for a way to sum up 18 years of playing in the big leagues and 23 years of managing there, look at the fire he brought to the job.

In a business built on competition, he was as competitive as anyone you'll find.

The fire burned, and you could see it. You could feel it.

You definitely could hear it.

And when it seemed to be missing, you noticed it. As this frustrating Cubs season went on, you noticed it more and more, which is why Piniella's Tuesday announcement that he'll retire at the end of the season came as no shock at all.

"He looks so beat up," one veteran baseball man said.

Last month, when CBSSports.com colleague Scott Miller visited Piniella in Chicago, Piniella said that the problems with the Cubs would never "suck the life out of me."

Now, it's easy to believe that's exactly what happened. Piniella told reporters in Chicago that his age (he'll turn 67 next month) and a desire to spend more time at home pushed him into retirement. But when Scott visited him last month, he was also talking of getting to 2,000 career wins.

"I'm not too far away from 2,000 wins," Piniella said then. "You know? I think I'm 14th all-time. If I got to 2,000 wins, and I'm not saying I will, but if I do, I'd be in the top 10."

Through Monday, Piniella had 1,826 wins. He won't get to 2,000 unless he goes on to manage somewhere else, something he has said he won't do.

He won't end up in the top 10. In fact, since he'd need 130 more wins to move past Bill McKechnie, we know that he'll finish exactly where he is now -- 14th overall.

Of the 13 managers ahead of him on the list, nine are in the Hall of Fame. Three others -- Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre -- are no-doubt Hall of Famers once they retire. The lone exception is Gene Mauch, who never made it to a World Series.

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Chicago Cubs

And Piniella?

He made it to just one World Series as a manager, winning with the 1990 Reds. His '95 Mariners team came close, losing to the Indians in the American League Championship Series. His 116-win Mariners lost in the ALCS in 2001. His first two Cubs teams won the National League Central, but didn't win a single postseason game.

Is he a Hall of Famer? He probably is, but it's no sure thing.

He took on tough jobs, working for the George Steinbrenner Yankees and the Marge Schott Reds, then going to Seattle to take over a franchise that had one winning season out of 16 before he arrived. As much as we said that Ken Griffey Jr. saved baseball in the Pacific Northwest, you could say that Piniella saved it as well.

Then the Tampa native tried to save baseball in his hometown. Finally, he went to Wrigley Field to try to end the Cubs' 99-year drought.

There were times when his enthusiasm seemed to wane, but it always came back. There was always a sign that the fire was still there, at least until this year.

"Lou was ultra-competitive in every game," said Mike Scioscia, who matched up with Piniella for three years in the American League West and then for three more years when Piniella was at Tampa Bay. "His competitive nature is what he infused into every team he managed."

It wasn't always enough. You look at Piniella's career and think that while he accomplished quite a bit in 23 years, he came close to accomplishing so much more -- close to taking the Mariners to a World Series, close to changing things in Chicago, where he was the first manager since Leo Durocher to take the Cubs to three straight winning seasons.

When Scott visited with Lou last month, Piniella was under fire in Chicago. The Cubs were struggling, and people were already wondering how long Piniella could last.

"They're not going to suck the life out of me," he said that day. "I'm not going to get the life sucked out of me. That won't happen.

"I'm too competitive."

Did they finally get to him? Did he finally, as he put it, have the life sucked out from him?

Perhaps they did. Perhaps he did.

But on the other point, there's no doubt Piniella was right.

He's competitive. He's as competitive as they come.

Ask the players who played for him.

Or ask the players who played against him.

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