No manager had been more respected by his peers than Jim Leyland. None who managed in 2013 had won more games.
Two days after a sour loss to the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series. Leyland called it a career on Monday.
And, what a career it was. Leyland was the second winningest manager of all who never played in the major leagues. He leaves with the 15th most wins in history. He won more games than Earl Weaver, Tom Lasorda and Dick Williams, Hall of Famers all.
Eleven seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates, eight with the Tigers, and two with Florida and one in Colorado. He took the Pirates to the National League Championship Series three times, and won his only World Series with the Marlins in 1997.
After ownership gutted the World Series winners, Leyland stuck with the club for a horrible 1998 season, then went to the Rockies for an unhappy season. He then quit and was out of managing for six years until Detroit called.
His greatest success came in the decidedly non-glamor markets of Pittsburgh and Detroit. Leyland, who failed a tryout with the Orioles as a catcher half a century ago, thrived with the Tigers, not far from his Ohio roots.
Soon to be 69, Leyland was signed by the Detroit organization, and never made it past Double-A as a player, and he used those tough lessons he learned in the majors to his success.
Gruff, blunt, funny and often caring, Leyland often talked with opposing players, enjoying their company. Blessed with a great memory, Leyland can remember people he met years ago, and make them feel at ease.
He said it was time for a younger man to take over the club. His bench coach Gene Lamont is only two years younger, and Dusty Baker, who’s already expressed interest is 64.
Hitting coach Lloyd McClendon played for him in Pittsburgh, and like Lamont managed the Pirates after Leyland left.
Talk of a successor is for other days. It’s time to appreciate Leyland for the 700 wins in eight seasons in Detroit, the two World Series appearances, and five times in the postseason. Another World Series ring would make Leyland a Hall of Famer for sure, but he should make it to Cooperstown even without that.
It was like Leyland to keep the news quiet. He truly did want the attention on his players, but for today, let’s lavish the attention on one of the best managers baseball’s ever seen.