Leyland's career comes full circle
DETROIT (AP) -- Jim Leyland's career in
professional baseball got a jolt when the franchise that gave him his
start offered him another shot.
The Detroit Tigers put Leyland back in
the dugout six years ago after employing him as a light-hitting catcher
in the minors and a manager in their farm system.
"It's a great story that he's gone in a
complete circle," Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski
said. "Adding to him starting out as a player and manager within the
organization, his family is an hour away from the ballpark and I think
that helps him relate in this community."
It has been a win-win reunion for the franchise and the Ohio native.
Leyland led the Tigers to the World
Series in 2006 -- giving the franchise a chance to win its first title
since 1984 -- and helped them get back to the Fall Classic this year
against San Francisco.
The old-school, 67-year-old manager can crack a joke one moment and turn crotchety the next.
"I'm old, but I'm not grumpy," Leyland deadpanned before Game 3 of the World Series on Saturday.
Leyland, though, always makes time for fans in a baseball-crazed town.
Tigers third base coach Gene Lamont,
who has known Leyland since 1966 when they were playing in the minors,
recently recalled a night in which he and Leyland stopped in the Motor
City for burgers.
"He was taking pictures between bites," Lamont said. "And, he loved it."
Leyland has showed how much managing
the Tigers has meant to him, getting choked up when Detroit won the
American League pennant this month in what was just his latest display
of emotion during his seven-season tenure.
If he can help Detroit rally well
enough to win his second World Series championship -- his first was with
the Florida Marlins -- the tears likely will flow again.
Then Leyland probably will try to do it all over again.
Dombrowski has made it clear Leyland
will get a new contract when his expires following the World Series, and
next year's team has an opportunity to be just as good as this one with
the return of designated hitter Victor Martinez from knee surgery.
Leyland got a one-year deal during the
2011 season that extended his stay through this season. He may ask for
another one-year deal after learning a humbling lesson during the 1999
season with the Colorado Rockies. He resigned following only one season
in Colorado, with $4 million and two years left on his contract, after
losing 90 games and a desire to work 12-plus hours a day.
Leyland could have called it a career,
and it would have been an impressive one even at that point. He managed
Pittsburgh Pirates to three straight division titles from 1990-92 and
helped the Marlins win it all in 1997.
But he couldn't resist when Dombrowski -- his boss in Florida -- came calling.
The Tigers wanted him to replace Alan
Trammell, who played for former Tigers manager Sparky Anderson, who
chose not to promote Leyland to his coaching staff in 1979.
Leyland left the organization a few
years to become the third base coach for the Chicago White Sox and work
for one of his best friends, Tony La Russa. He got his first shot to
manage in the majors in 1986 in Pittsburgh, where he still has a home
with his wife.
Leyland's 1,676 wins over 22 regular
seasons -- with the Pirates, Marlins, Rockies and Tigers -- rank No. 1
among active managers and put him 15th on the career list.
"I have so much respect and revere what
he's done in his career," San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's
one of the best ever."
Leyland's even-keeled disposition has
served him well, refusing to get too high or low after wins or losses
during a 162-game season or after losing the first two games of a
seven-game World Series. When reporters ask one too many questions about
a previous game, Leyland says he won't "chew yesterday's breakfast,"
and declines to look back.
He tries to touch base with every
player every day by shouting playfully at them while walking through the
clubhouse or chatting quietly face to face on the field during batting
Rah-rah, he's not.
"Skip is not the one that's going to
hold a meeting or a big speech or anything like that, he's not that type
of manager," Tigers catcher Alex Avila said. "The thing about Skip,
he's extremely honest."
And so are fans in the Motor City.
When the Tigers are winning, Leyland is
hailed. When they're losing, as they did more than expected during the
season, he hears about it.
"Well, it's great right now," Leyland
said of interacting with the public. "It wasn't quite as good earlier in
the summer, but it's pretty good right now.
"Everybody is having a good time."