Lou Piniella Didn't Leave His Heart in San Francisco

Categories: Sports
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Sayonara!
Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella, a legend in both the sports of baseball and temper tantrums, abruptly retired yesterday after a 16-5 drubbing by the Atlanta Braves.

A number of articles will likely celebrate his virtuoso ability to get himself thrown out of a game -- and innovative use of the bases as props. Other writers may note that, as a player, Piniella was, on April 16, 1970, the first man in Major League history to be thrown out at first, second, third, and home in the same game.

You probably won't find the San Francisco Giants mentioned up high in any Piniella stories, though: The home team figures in two of the more embarrassing or painful episodes in his storied career.

The most recent interaction with the Giants was actually the lack of an interaction. The Cubs skipper skipped a recent swing here in San Francisco to spend time with his deathly ill mother -- portending yesterday's full-time move to do the same.

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But it was nearly 20 years ago that the hot-headed Piniella made one of his costliest missteps -- and, again, the Giants were indirectly to blame. On Aug. 4, 1991 in Riverfront Stadium, the Cincinnati Reds' Billy Doran hit a deep fly ball down the left field line. First-base umpire Dutch Rennert called it a home run. But home plate ump Gary Darling overruled him. Foul ball. Piniella argued -- and was ejected. After the game Piniella charged the umpire with an anti-Cincinnati "bias" and claimed his team was the victim of a plot. Shortly thereafter, Piniella was the victim of a lawsuit -- a $5 million defamation lawsuit from Darling.

In December of that year, however, the case was settled -- for an undisclosed amount of money -- after Piniella offered the following shit-eating apology:

"The major league umpires are, in my opinion, the finest officials in any sport today. Under difficult circumstances, they acquit themselves with the very highest degree of professionalism and this has earned the respect and esteem of everyone in the game. I have high regard for Gary Darling's integrity and deeply regret comments that may have maligned his character in any way. Like his fellow umpires, he does his utmost day in and day out to fairly and dispassionately get the right call. I may not agree with each and every call, but that does not alter the fact that the major league umpires are essentially simply the best."

In any event, best of luck to Piniella -- and, especially, his mother. Perhaps it's for the best that a man widely revered as excellent at his job can also behave in a way that'd make the parents of a toddler cringe.

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