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Cox's presence appropriate for Lou's last tilt

Cox's presence appropriate for Lou's last tilt

CHICAGO -- When Braves manager Bobby Cox arrived at Wrigley Field for Sunday afternoon's series finale, he was prepared for the Cubs to honor him during a pregame ceremony and provide him gifts to recognize his plans to end his legendary managerial career at the end of this season.

Just before making his way to the bench for batting practice, Cox was given the surprising news that Cubs manager Lou Piniella had added to the day's retirement theme.

Lou Piniella

Wanting to spend time with his ailing mother, Piniella announced Sunday morning that he was just hours away from managing his last game of the season and possibly his career. The accomplished skipper announced last month that he planned to retire at the end of the season.

"It was kind of a shock for me," Cox said. "It's a sad day for me. Lou and I go way back. I love Lou. He's always been one of my favorites."

Recognizing that this would be Cox's final trip to their home park, the Cubs had planned to have Piniella and Cox exchange the lineup cards before this series finale. This exchange proved more significant once Piniella revealed that he was ready Sunday to put an end to his managerial career, which has spanned 23 seasons and included 1,835 victories.

"Bobby's a friend," Piniella said. "I guess he's retiring at the end of the year. I'm going to exchange the lineup cards with him at home plate, take a picture and I'll cherish that."

While wrapping up his Major League playing career for the Yankees in 1969, Cox was introduced to Piniella, who was on his way to winning the American League Rookie of the Year Award while playing for the Royals.

Eight years later, the two would help the Yankees win the 1977 World Series and develop a bond that has remained strong over the course of the three-plus decades that have followed.

While spending that memorable season together with Yankees, Cox served as the first-base coach and Piniella was a talented utility player who batted .330 in 339 at-bats.

"Lou has always had great passion for the game," Cox said. "That's something he'll never lose. You couldn't play for a better guy."

Piniella has compiled the 14th-most managerial wins in Major League history. When Cox walks away at the end of this season, Connie Mack, John McGraw and Tony La Russa will be the only managers who have compiled more wins.

Cox said that he had hoped to be able to talk Piniella out of his plans to retire at the end of this season.

As for Cox, he has never truly wavered since announcing last year that this will be his last season. Possibly hoping to further strengthen this plan, his wife recently pre-paid for a cruise vacation that they will experience in April.

"There's no turning back now," Cox said with a smile.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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