Piniella, 63, who last managed Tampa Bay from 2003-05, has a career .517 percentage as manager (1,519-1,420 record) and was named American League manager of the year twice, in 1995 and 2001. He spent the 2006 season as a color commentator for FOX's baseball broadcasts.
He told the Chicago Sun-Times that he felt "refreshed" after the time off from managing. He removed himself from consideration for the San Francisco Giants job, a team looking for a manager to replace Felipe Alou.
The Cubs, coming off a last-place finish and a 66-96 record, decided to go with a more experienced manager rather than name fan favorite Joe Girardi, who is coming off one year at the helm of the Florida Marlins.
Cubs general manager Jim Hendry interviewed Piniella, Girardi, former Arizona manager Bob Brenly, Cubs Triple-A manager Mike Quade and Double-A manager Pat Listach.
"I feel terrific about Lou. I think he's a tremendous baseball man and a proven winner from the beginning of his career," Hendry told the Associated Press on Monday.
"I think he's absolutely the perfect choice as we move forward."
Girardi played for the Cubs from 1989-92 and again from 2000-02, and was a popular choice of the fans. Brenly has been the color analyst for the Cubs TV broadcasts, and is familiar with the personnel. But Hendry opted for Piniella, who will replace Dusty Baker, whose contract was not renewed after four years. The Cubs hope Piniella will have the same success as another veteran skipper, Jim Leyland, did this season in Detroit.
"When I heard they were interviewing him, it didn't come as a surprise," Cubs catcher Michael Barrett said Monday. "I think very highly of Lou Piniella. I grew up watching him and I look forward to the opportunity to work with him.
"I enjoyed my time with Dusty and I wish him the best -- he knows how I feel about him," Barrett said. "I'm also excited about working with another manager who has a great reputation."
Piniella began his managerial career in 1986 as skipper of the New York Yankees and won 90 games in his first season. He stayed in New York two more years, then joined the Cincinnati Reds from 1990-92, and won the World Series in his first year with a 91-71 record. Larry Rothschild, who just completed his fifth season as the Cubs pitching coach, was a coach on Piniella's 1990 staff.
Piniella's longest tenure was with the Seattle Mariners, whom he managed from 1993-2002, finishing first three times, including an impressive 116-46 season in 2001, tying the record for most victories in a single season. The 1906 Cubs won 116 games in a 154-game schedule.
Nicknamed "Sweet Lou," Piniella was named Rookie of the Year in 1969 with Kansas City when he batted .282 with 11 home runs and 68 RBIs. He joined the New York Yankees in 1974, and spent 11 seasons in pinstripes. In 18 seasons, Piniella batted .291 with 102 home runs and 766 RBIs.
Piniella has been known to have his share of animated exchanges with umpires.
"Lou's thrown some bases, Dusty's thrown some toothpicks," Cubs reliever Scott Eyre said, comparing Piniella and Baker. "He's an in your face type of guy. I have no problem with that. Bake wasn't like that. Felipe wasn't like that. But I have no problem with anyone like that."
Spring Training may be a little more intense. Piniella will let players know if they don't do things the right way or aren't prepared.
"I'm very excited to see what Lou brings to the table," Eyre said. "Lou brings some intensity and fire. Maybe that's what we need."
Piniella inherits a team that has some holes, especially in the starting rotation. Carlos Zambrano and rookie Rich Hill appear set, but it's unclear who will fill the other spots. The Cubs could lose third baseman Aramis Ramirez to free agency if he opts to file, and center fielder Juan Pierre has yet to declare whether he wants to stay or go.
The move is the latest in an overhaul of the Cubs. On Oct. 1, Andy MacPhail announced his resignation as team president, and Baker departed the next day. The Cubs have not won a World Series since 1908, and haven't appeared in the World Series since 1945.