Monday, October 21, 2013

Leyland Decides To Call It A Day

The fiery temper, the wiry build. The profanity laced, chain smoking, shoot from the hip demeanor. The mustachioed, no-nonsense leader. That pretty much sums up the on-field persona of Jim Leyland, who earlier today stepped down as manager of the Detroit Tigers after eight semi-successful seasons.

"I'm going to be 69 years old," he said. "I'm not ashamed of that. I'm proud of it. The fuel's getting a little low."
"I want to retire a Tiger. So long. It's not goodbye. And from the bottom of my heart thank you for having me." 1
The 68-year old had worked the last handful of years for the Tigers on a year-to-year contract basis. He recently said words to the effect of "Why would it bother/worry me when that's how we've worked for so long" when queried by the media about his future.

Current Diamondbacks manager and former Tiger Kirk Gibson and another former Tiger, Brad Ausmus, are the early names being mentioned to replace Leyland as manager.

It appeared Leyland might have been relieved of his job in 2010 or 2011 after the Tigers finished 5th in the AL Central in 2008 and missed the playoffs the next two seasons. But after a 12-17 start in 2011, the Tigers won the first of three straight division crowns. They reached the league championship series in all three seasons and made it to the 2012 World Series where they lost to the San Francisco Giants. Leyland's Tigers also won the AL pennant in 2006, his first season in Detroit, but lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in the Fall Classic.

With pitchers Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, and sluggers Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder leading the team, the 2013 Tigers had a great shot at a return to the World Series. However, the team's bullpen and lineup let them down in the key moments of their ALCS loss to the Boston Red Sox.

Leyland was a throwback to the non-number crunching managers that preceded the millennium. His players may not have always liked him, but they respected and played hard for him. No one over the age of 30 will forget his days at the helm of the Pittsburgh Pirates when he chewed out a thinner, but already arrogant Barry Bonds in front of the rest of the team during 1991's Spring Training. (See the profanity laced video below)

People think of Leyland as an old curmudgeon, but he was just 41 years of age when he was hired to manage the Pirates in 1986. (He started a string of 11 seasons as a manager in the Tigers chain at age 20.) After finishing out in the upper half of the division just once in four years, Leyland's Pirates averaged 96 wins and captured the NL East title for three straight seasons (1990-1992).

The '90 squad lost the NLCS to the eventual World Series champion Cincinnati Reds in six games and then lost back-to-back seven game league championship series to the Atlanta Braves. The '92 squad fell in heartbreaking fashion when they blew a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the 9th in Game 7. The image of former Pirate Sid Bream sliding home with the winning run still resonates with Pirates fans to this day.

Cost cutting cost the Pirates dearly and they won just 53 games in 1995. In the midst of a fourth straight losing season, Leyland told Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy that he was quitting at the end of the season. McClatchy let Leyland out of the remainder of his 4-year, $4MM contract.

Leyland wasn't unemployed long; with the Chicago White Sox, Boston Red Sox, and California Angels all interested in hiring him, Leyland was hired by the Florida Marlins, which had put together a power packed team. The expansion team had played its first season in 1993 and captured the first wild card under Leyland's tutelage in 1997. The team then went on to win the NL pennant and defeated the Cleveland Indians in seven games for their first World Series title.

But as a precursor to future owner Jeffrey Loria’s putting a wrecking ball to the 2003 championship team, then owner Wayne Huizenga gutted the squad before the next season. The Marlins won just 54 games in defense of their title and Leyland, with no prospect of winning any time in the near future, walked away from his post and replaced Don Baylor as skipper of the Colorado Rockies.

In early September, however, a very emotional Leyland answered reports that he would step down at season's end by saying he didn't have the all of the passion he needed to do the job.
"To do this job right, the fire has to burn 12, 14 hours a day. I'm a maniac during the game and the fire burns like it always has, but I think to the job right, you've got to work at it 12 hours a day, and I'm not sure I'm doing very good at that right now. This is not final. It's a strong possibility." 2
After a 72-90 finish, Leyland indeed resigned to spend more time with his family. The St. Louis Cardinals hired him two months later to be a scout in his home area of Pittsburgh and he would remain in that position until he felt the itch to manage again prior to the 2005 season. (Leyland had been third base coach for White Sox manager Tony LaRussa prior to his hire in Pittsburgh and LaRussa was the Cardinals manager in 2000 when they signed Leyland as a scout.)

Though he missed out on the Philadelphia Phillies job the prior year, a refreshed, renewed Leyland was hired by the Tigers prior to the 2006 season. Signed to a 3-year deal (a 1-year extension was added a year later), Leyland admitted he never thought he would manage again.
 "I did a lousy job my last year of managing," Leyland said. "I stunk because I was burned out. When I left there, I sincerely believed that I would not manage again."
"I always missed the competition, but the last couple of years -- and this stuck in my craw a little bit, I did not want my managerial career to end like that."3
This time around it sounds like Leyland felt good about leaving. He is expected to take a position within the organization. Leyland leaves the game with 1769 wins, a .506 winning percentage, one World Series title, three pennants, and two Manager of the Year awards.

Good luck to a guy who did things his way and once yelled at Barry Bonds.

Headphones or low volume are advised if you are at work or have little kids around.

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