CHICAGO -- Lou Piniella told the Cubs players a month ago he was retiring after this season. He surprised them Sunday when he said goodbye.
Piniella is retiring after Sunday's game to go home and take care of his ill mother. The Cubs manager missed time in late July to attend his uncle's funeral, and had gone back to Tampa, Fla., Aug. 9-12 to be with his mother. Her condition hasn't improved.
"More than anybody else, it's emotional for Lou," Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster said. "Losing an uncle and having a mom sick, that's something nobody wants to see anybody go through. It's been tough and I'm glad he's going home to be with her and his family."
The Cubs players understood his decision.
"I can see where he's coming from," third baseman Aramis Ramirez said. "His mother is in bad shape right now. I went through something like that last year with my dad. That's tough -- you can't be in two places at one time. I think he made the right decision. Family is No. 1, this is second."
Said catcher Koyie Hill: "I think we all know that's where he should be."
The players had hoped to send Piniella out with a win, but the Braves overwhelmed the Cubs, 16-5. Coincidentally, the Cubs lost 16-5 to the Braves on Opening Day this year.
"In any circumstance you don't want a game like this to happen," said Cubs pitcher Randy Wells, who took the loss. "It was a pretty emotional day, and I didn't get it done."
Piniella met with the players before the game and delivered a heartfelt talk.
"You can imagine how emotional it could be," Hill said. "I've been playing since I was 4 years old and I don't have a quarter of the credentials he has. You can only imagine what it's going to be like when the day comes when it's your last day."
While it was difficult to say goodbye as the Cubs were headed for a flight to Washington, D.C., to open a series against the Nationals, it will be even harder in the next few days without baseball. Piniella has spent nearly 50 years in the game.
"The routine, coming to the ballpark every day -- you get so used to it," pitcher Tom Gorzelanny said. "I'm used to it and I can't imagine 50 years into it. I'm sure it'll be tough for him the next week or two."
Piniella made quite an impact in his four seasons in Chicago.
"Professional, great manager," Cubs pitcher Sean Marshall said. "I've been lucky enough to play with a couple good managers in Dusty [Baker] and Lou. Lou gave me every opportunity in the world to succeed, and knock on wood, so far it's paying off. I'm forever grateful for that. He's intense and he likes to win. He's a competitor and he wants to win as much as all the guys on the field.
"He's stern," Marshall said. "He never criticizes -- I guess the word is demeaning, he's never demeaning to you. He gets his point across without hurting your feelings. He'll let you know if you did something wrong, but never confronts you about it.
"It's been a pleasure to play for him these four years," Marshall said. "I have nothing but respect for him. He's got a tremendous baseball mind, and I wish him the best."
Piniella respected his players and it showed.
"He's always treated me like a man, and I've always tried to go out and give him my best effort every time," Dempster said. "He's been around for so long for so many years, I've tried to pick his brain as much as I could.
"I hope we appreciate all the good things that have happened here rather than remember the bad ones," Dempster said. "This has been a tough year but if we look back on it in a grand scheme, there is a lot more positive than negative."
Piniella and Braves manager Bobby Cox, who is retiring at the end of this season, took their respective lineup cards out before Sunday's game. The two hugged, and an announcement was made that this was Piniella's last game. He received a standing ovation, and several chants of "Lou, Lou."
"When he announced his retirement I said this, that I admire the guys who have done this job for that long -- Bobby Cox and [Joe] Torre," Milwaukee's Ken Macha said. "This is not an easy job."
Sunday's meeting caught several Cubs players off-guard.
"You hate to see a grown man kind of tear up," Marshall said. "It just shows his heart and his drive for baseball and his love for his family."
"I think it hit everybody maybe harder than we anticipated," Hill said. "We were prepared that this was his last year, and wanted to go into the last month and give it a good run, and nice professional effort and do everything we could to play better and win."
Piniella and wife Anita now head home to Tampa.
"I got to be around him for four years, and you really appreciate the fact that the guy wanted you on his team," Hill said. "You learn a lot from a guy like him and appreciate everything he's done for you. The guys in this room understand he was brought in here because of the important task the Cubs' organization has and it's pretty special to be a part of it."
This was not the sendoff the Cubs wanted to give Piniella, not Sunday's game or the entire season.
"I wish we could've done a little better this year and send him out on a good note, especially today," Gorzelanny said. "Once the game was over, you knew that was it for him and the long great career he had as a manager, and you feel bad for the way it ended. We know he had a great career and has done a lot of good things as a manager and as a player. The length of time he's spent in baseball, not many people can say that. You can only hope to have a full career like he did."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.