Lou Piniella began his career in professional baseball in 1962 as an 18-year-old outfielder for the Cleveland Indians‘ Class D affiliate Selma Cloverleafs of the Alabama-Florida league.

After 23 seasons playing professional baseball (including 18 big league seasons), another 23 seasons managing in the big leagues, and a few seasons as a general manager or broadcaster, “Sweet Lou” likely put on a big league uniform for the final time Sunday.

It was just over a month ago that Piniella made public his intention to retire, so we all knew this day was coming before too long. What we didn’t expect was that it would be coming this soon, mainly because he originally intended to retire at season’s end.

More than that, I’m sure that Lou didn’t expect his farewell to come on such substandard terms. As Koyie Hill said, “I don’t know if you could’ve scripted it any worse.”

His Cubs career ends with no playoff wins. His final season’s record sits at 51 wins and 74 losses, 21.5 games out of the division lead. His final game was an ugly 16-5 loss.

And the whole reason he’s stepping down with 37 games left to play is because his mother is sick.

No matter what you thought of Lou Piniella the manager, you have to respect Lou Piniella the man. He deserved better than this.

In the meantime, long-time minor league manager and major league third base coach Mike Quade will replace him on at least an interim basis.

Alan Trammell, who filled in for Lou when other family matters took him away from the team earlier this year, will not be taking over this time because, as Jim Hendry explained, Trammell will not be considered for the position going forward and Quade is “a strong candidate for the future.”

In a second half that has seen (and is seeing) many players getting chances to show what they can do for the chance at a bigger role in 2011, it’s sort of fitting that a member of the coaching staff will be getting looked at for his own promotion next year.

And, should that promotion come to fruition, it shouldn’t take much acclimation from Cubs fans.

Yes, it helps that we’ll have more than a month’s worth of games to ease us into the change. But now, instead of fans howling for “Lou” whenever the manager comes out to argue, all they have to say is “Q.”

It’s a small first step, but it’s a start.

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