This column first appeared in the Sunday editions of The Times and The News-Star August 29, 2010. Because we love October Baseball — and because we love Lou Pinella — we thought we’d run it again today.
Many of you won’t care that Lou Pinella retired from a half century in baseball this week, but you will care what he said the day he did.
A World Champion as a player in New York with the Yankees and as a manager in Cincinnati, Sweet Lou has managed Chicago’s Cubs the past four seasons. Half those games have been in cozy, timeless Wrigley Field.
“You know what I noticed today?,” he told reporters afterward in Wrigley. “I noticed things around the park I hadn’t noticed before. I wasn’t daydreaming, but I was very cognizant of the things around me. It was a good day to remember…”
And then he laughed and added, since the Cubs had been pounded by Atlanta, 16-5, “and also it’s a good day to forget.”
I’ve loved Pinella since I read “Ball Four” in junior high. In it he was a quiet and studly bonus-baby rookie on a Seattle Pilots team that pitcher Jim Bouton documented from inside the locker room and on the road. Classic. And though it was a breakthrough type of tell-all sportswriting from a player, Pinella’s “character” remained mysterious. I liked that.
Even though I despised the Yankees, I loved Pinella more when he fought the right-field sun in Yankee Stadium in the late innings of 1978 to beat Boston. He was a quietly efficient member of the Bronx Zoo. I appreciated that he stayed out of the limelight but rose to the occasion.
And I loved him more when he started managing and started throwing things that weren’t nailed down and some things, like bases, that were.
He cared. And he was dark-skinned, like my granddaddy. And he loved baseball, like my granddaddy did.
Then Sunday he said he was quitting now instead of at season’s end because his ailing 90-year-old mom in Tampa needed him. But I think part of this “early retirement” at age 66 was that he can’t stand to watch fat contract players like a left fielder who won’t run out grounders and a third baseman who ole!’s every hard hit ground ball, guys who are just trying to finish the season without getting hurt. Either way – love of mom or hatred of disrespect for the game – his exit just made me like him more.
I even nearly named my son after him and after my mom. I chose Casey. But you can’t go wrong with Sweet Lou, either.
And so it made me smile, what he said after his final game in a uniform. Because I felt that while here’s a guy who’s seen it all, here’s also a guy who hasn’t seen it all.
“…I noticed things around the park I hadn’t noticed before … It was a good day to remember…”
Thousands of days and thousands of games. Stretching in the outfield. A father walking into section C with a fat-cheeked boy in his arm. A player knocking dirt off his cleats with a stick of ash. Ivy on a wall.
Pennants in the wind. A white ball against a high sky. A scorecard pencil. A rake on dirt the color of maple syrup.
Sure is a lot to see, both inside the ballpark and out. For a guy who’s supposed to be observant, I wince at how much I must miss. Most mornings feel like Wilder’s “Our Town,” and I’m wondering if I’m seeing anything at all, and appreciating it if I do.
Here’s hoping that, like Sweet Lou, we don’t miss it. Here’s wishing us all a good day to remember.