DETROIT – Hall of Fame manager Leo Durocher is famous for saying that nice guys finish last.
Seventy years later, Jim Leyland couldn’t agree more.
“We’ve got a wonderful clubhouse and a wonderful group of guys, but I wish we had a few more a**holes,” Leyland said before Tuesday’s 6-3 win over St. Louis. “I wish we had some guys who had a meaner streak in them from 7-10 and kept the other personality the rest of the time.
“If you look at the best teams in any sport, they have a swagger to them. That’s what we need.”
Leyland isn’t questioning his team’s talent, but said the mix of injuries, personalities and slumps has left him without the leadership it needs.
“I’ve always said that you can’t be a leader when you are hitting .205,” he said. “When your stars are quiet, like ours, and you’ve got some other guys that aren’t doing so well, it is hard to find someone who wants to be that rat. A couple dirtballs are all we need.”
Leyland pointed to the defending champion Cardinals as a team that had the kind of players that he wants, and said that it was something that the 2006 Tigers developed.
“When I came here in 2006, I got a very talented team that had no idea how to win,” he said. “They learned how to win as a team, and they developed that swagger. I’m not going to get into naming names, but the 2006 team had some of those guys.”
Leyland mentioned Brandon Inge and FOX Sports Detroit analyst Craig Monroe as players who, while not stars, made the kind of plays that helped the Tigers reach the World Series.
“You don’t have to be a great player, but you can’t be afraid of being in front of the camera,” he said. “Role players are important in every sport, and some times, you need a guy who might hit .240, but will hit a big home run or will move runners along or will break up a double play. If you look back at 2006, it wasn’t the same guys making the plays every game. We had different people doing it every night.”
Magglio Ordonez was brought up as an example as the type of player he might be talking about, saying that Ordonez had the swagger in a quiet way. Leyland also noted that Justin Verlander shows the kind of desire he wants, but that it is hard for a starting pitcher to be a leader when he’s only on the field every fifth day.
Verlander, though, thought he fit the bill.
“I think as a starting pitcher, you can have somebody who competes and is, for lack of a better word, an a**hole on the mound,” he said after the game. “I would think that’s me.”
While the manager’s terminology changed throughout the discussion, it was clear what kind of player he means – someone who doesn’t have superstar talent but who makes the most of what they do have. It’s the type of player who Larry Brown would say “plays the right way,” and that would fit in perfectly on Mike Babcock’s checking line.
In 2006, that would have been players like Carlos Guillen – remember the staredown of Jared Weaver last season? – and Placido Polanco. In 2012? Again, Leyland wasn’t naming names, but he certainly would like grittier performances from Brennan Boesch, Jhonny Peralta and Ryan Raburn.
HALL OF FAME MUSINGS
When asked for his thoughts about Roger Clemens being found not guilty of perjury charges, Leyland said that he hopes the verdict will help get both Clemens and Barry Bonds into the Hall of Fame.
“They’ve both gone through our justice system, and they’ve both been found not guilty,” he said. “Roger was the best pitcher I’ve ever seen, and Barry might be the greatest player of all time. I’d like to see them get recognized for that.”
When he was reminded that the Hall of Fame’s voting standards include sportsmanship and integrity, Leyland pointed out that Clemens and Bonds wouldn’t be the first players in Cooperstown with questions about their characters.
“You have to remember that the Hall of Fame is the Promised Land, not the Holy Land.”