The Legacy of Leyland


An old baseball cowboy has decided it’s time to take that long ride off into the sunset. On Monday, Jim Leyland announced that he was hanging ‘em up and stepping down as Detroit Tigers’ manager.

His decision wasn’t for lack of success.

In his eight seasons there, Leyland led Detroit to two World Series and had the club on the brink of a third this year. He has 1,769 wins in 22 years as a big league manager. He posted a 700-597 record with the Tigers. He won a World Series with the Marlins in 1997. He led the Pittsburgh Pirate to three-straight National League East division titles in 1990, 1991 and 1992 – the last time the Buccos were even remotely relevant before this year. Those are the kind of numbers that make for Hall of Famers.

For Leyland, it was simply time. About to turn 69, Leyland admitted during his announcement that the fuel’s getting a little low. He’s not leaving the organization completely – he will take some other position with the team – but he will manage no more.

Leyland should be remembered as the man whose management culminated in the rise of a destitute franchise.

In 2003, the organization had hit rock bottom, losing an American League record 119 games. Leyland took the rains after the 2005 season and guided the team to the World Series, one they ultimately lost to St. Louis.

Still, it was an amazing turnaround considering where the club had been just a few years prior. And there was no subsequent let down. From that World Series appearance on, people have expected the Tigers to be good. So good that anything less than a World Series appearance is cause for criticism (and this year’s was undeserved).

Leyland should be remembered as a scrapper.

He never played in the Major Leagues. He never even came close. He was a backup Double A catcher who hit a measly .222, yet fought his way to a 22-year managing career. And he never took one day out of those 22 years for granted. He hated taking credit for his team’s success, and was always first to jump in front of the blame bullet when things didn’t go well.

Leyland should be remembered as somewhat gruff.

The man smoked. A lot. He spoke with a baritone rasp and a furrowed brow. When it came to the media, he was never bashful, never afraid to speak his mind, and usually pretty snippy. He hated pre-game press conferences. He often cut off questions he didn’t like, chastised reporters for asking him about “silly s***”, and sometimes would cancel his pre-game sessions altogether.

But he should also be remembered as gracious.

Leyland has been moved to tears more often than any manager I can ever remember. Of course, he cried during his retirement press conference. But he has also cried after his team has won a big game. Most recently he cried after his team clinched the AL Central this year, a tip of the cap to the fans that had supported him and his team throughout the season. Perhaps his mind had already been made up at that point, and he knew that he was nearing the end.

Hopefully, in the end, Leyland will be remembered as a Hall of Famer.

So long, skip.

About Matthew George

Matthew George graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2008 with a bachelor of science in journalism. He spent three years writing sports for the Kentucky Kernel, the university's daily paper, and served as assistant sports editor. After undergrad, Matthew attended Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University where he earned his juris doctorate. He is now admitted to practice law in Kentucky and Indiana.

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