Tag: Jim Leyland

Jim Leyland: History Will Judge Him Favorably in Detroit, as It Should

The year still looms there, like the cheese that stands alone.


It used to be 1968. That was the year that all Tigers fans would reference, sometimes happily, sometimes wistfully, sometimes pessimistically.

It seemed like we waited eons after the Tigers’ 1968 World Series triumph for that feeling to come again. But it was only 16 years, which in retrospect is nothing, really.

And there was plenty of winning between ’68 and ’84 to keep fans from losing too much faith.

The ’68 club was the core of the 1972 team that won the AL East on the next-to-last day of the season. That group got old and fizzled, leading to the lean years of 1974-75.

Mark Fidrych was more than enough of a distraction in 1976 to keep you from remembering that the Tigers were winning just 74 games.

There was another 74-win season in 1977, but we were still blinded by the idea of Fidrych, who kept trying to come back from a shoulder injury.

In 1978, Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker made their full-time debuts, and the Tigers began a stretch of .500+ baseball that would run through 1988.

And in there was 1984.

You don’t have to say much beyond the year.

And here we are, some 29 years later, and 1984 is the cheese that stands alone.

There was 1987, when the Tigers rocketed past the Toronto Blue Jays in a frantic final week of baseball that will never be forgotten in these parts. But that Tigers team was spent and fell to the Minnesota Twins in five games in the ALCS.

There was a close call in 1988, but the Tigers couldn’t quite catch the Boston Red Sox in the AL East.

Then came 1989’s bottoming outa 103-loss season, which saw manager Sparky Anderson take a leave of absence due to exhaustion.

That 1989 season started an ugly stretch of baseball in Detroitone that continued unabated for 16 years.

Mike Ilitch bought the team in 1992 and after a series of miscues in the front office and in the dugout following Sparky’s departure after the 1995 season, Ilitch hired a young executive named Dave Dombrowski to get the team’s act together. It was November, 2001.

Dombrowski, hired in as the team’s president and CEO, fired GM Randy Smith and manager Phil Garner one week into the 2002 seasonafter Dombrowski had been on the job for five months.

The Tigers bottomed out once more, to the tune of 119 losses in 2003. Dombrowski knew that was coming. He also knew that the team would be so wretched on the field, the dugout may as well have some flair.

Hence the hiring of Alan Trammell as manager for 2003.

Trammell was the sacrificial lambthe rookie manager who couldn’t possibly have any success with the joke of a roster that he had been provided. Casey Stengel managed the 1962 Mets, you know. Funny how stupid Casey was when he didn’t have Mantle, Maris, Berra and Ford on his roster.

Trammell had Munson, Halter, Young and Witt.

Tram put in his three years, and was dispatched when Dombrowski‘s roster re-tooling began to take shape.


That year was even more prominent when Trammell managed the Tigers, because he had Kirk Gibson and Lance Parrish on his coaching staff. It was maybe the only time in big league history when the coaches, even at their ages, were better players than the guys on the 25-man roster.

Tram got the ziggy after 2005, with a clubhouse in disarray and the taste of an 8-24 finish to the year lingering in everyone’s mouths.

Jim Leyland sat at the podium, just announced as the Tigers new manager in October 2005, and he had some unfinished business. His last stint in the dugout, with Colorado in 1999, was a huge disappointment.

“…the last couple of yearsand this stuck in my craw a little bit, I did not want my managerial career to end like that,” Leyland said of returning to the role of baseball skipper, as per ESPN.

Leyland had been out of the managing game for six years when Dombrowski reached out to him shortly after firing Trammell.

But at the press conference announcing his hiring by the Tigers, with his friend Dombrowski smiling beside himthe pair won a world title in 1997 in FloridaLeyland declared his vim and vigor were back.

The Tigers were his home town team, to be truthful. Forget the Ohio and Pennsylvania roots. Leyland was a catcher in the low minors for the Tigers in the 1960s. He managed in the Tigers farm system in the 1970s. He was in Lakeland, FL. every spring, brushing shoulders with Kaline, Freehan, Cash and Northrup as Leyland was busy managing a bunch of guys named Morris, Parrish, Whitaker and Trammell.

The Tigers were his team, in his heart.

Leyland was a Pirate for awhile, as we all know. He won some divisions in Pittsburghthree straight in fact, from 1990-92. The World Series eluded him.

Then it was on to Florida, and an unlikely and unexpected World Series victory in 1997.

The Marlins had a fire sale that began almost right after the parade, and Leyland suffered through a 108-loss season in 1998.

Then it was that year in Colorado, which Leyland is least proud of among all his years managing. He felt he stole a paycheck from the Rockies. He has admitted that he was awful and he was burned out, maybe managing too soon after the Marlins debacle and thus his juices weren’t flowing right.

But he was rested and raring to go when Dombrowski called him and asked him to take over the Tigers.

It may not have been quite the rush to Detroit as Brady Hoke’s was to Ann Arbor when U-M Athletic Director Dave Brandon called Brady and asked him to “come home” to coach the Wolverines, but it didn’t take long for Leyland to say yes to Dombrowski, either.

Leyland said yes so fast, he barely looked at the Tigers roster.


The cheese still stood alone, but Leyland‘s first year in Detroit seemed to have magic pixie dust sprinkled on it. The Tigers were 76-36 at one point, before stumbling to the finish with a 19-31 record over their final 50 games. Still, it was good enough to qualify for one of Bud Selig’s wild card berths.

The 2006 Tigers made it to the World Series, where cold bats and their pitchers’ inability to field their position resulted in a 4-1 series loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.


That magical year of Trammell, Whitaker, Parrish, Morris et al continued to haunt the Tigers.

There was the last week of 2009, which was the 180-degree opposite of that of 1987. The Tigers blew a three-game divisional lead with four games to play, and had to settle for a one-game playoff in Minnesota. It was a marvelous game, but one that makes Tigers fans shudder, and always will.


In 2011, the Tigers cruised to a divisional title and lost to Nelson Cruz, er, the Texas Rangers, in the ALCS.


In 2012, the Tigers had to fend off a pesky Chicago White Sox team just to win the division, but made it to another World Series. Again, the bats and the baserunning went cold, and the San Francisco Giants swept the Tigers.

In 2013, the Tigers kept the Cleveland Indians at arm’s length and made it to another LCStheir third straight. But, as Leyland said more than once at his retirement press conference on Monday, the Tigers “let one get away” against the Red Sox. And, he said, it hurt him deeply.

Jim Leyland had eight years as Tigers manager. In only one of them did the team fail to reach the .500 standard. Three times they won their division. Twice they won the American League pennant.

In the 17 years prior to Leyland‘s arrival, the Tigers had exactly one winning record. Four times in those 17 years, they lost more than 100 games.

It rankles some to say that Jim Leyland made baseball relevant again in Detroit. Because, after all, the goal isn’t to be relevantit’s to win the whole shebang.

It also rankles them because the Tigers’ success since Leyland was hired is largely due to the magic wand of Dombrowski, whose trades and free agent signings have given Leyland the tools any manager needs to be successful. Those tools all have one thing in common: talent.

Any knucklehead could have managed the Tigers with the rosters Leyland was given, and won as much as he did. Right?

We’ll never know for sure, mainly because Leyland isn’t a knucklehead. He’s a grizzled baseball guy who has stood up to the likes of Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla, who has given confidence to the Don Kellys of the world and who has presided over a clubhouse that the players police themselves and which has had hardly any fracturing.

Leyland was like Chuck Daly that way. Leyland expected his players to be grown men and act as such. It has helped that the Tigers have made it a habit of employing players who are pretty darn good guysmen of character and dignity. Carlos Guillen comes to mind.

The team has also had lots of veterans in the clubhouse during Leyland‘s tenure, which doesn’t hurt. It’s why the manager has felt it best to keep out of the players’ sanctuary, for the most part.

Leyland didn’t always push the right buttons, but what manager does? He was slave to pitch counts. He wasn’t particularly aggressive or creative. The move of Jhonny Peralta to left field, when it comes to Leyland, was almost off the charts. It was Mickey Stanley to shortstop-ish.

But the players adored him. And when players like the manager, they tend to play better. That’s a fact.


It still stands alone. Leyland wasn’t able to rip that year from the wall. It’s 29 years and counting. That gap makes the 1968-84 wait seem like nothing.

Leyland, thanks to the emergence of the Internet and talk radio, was nitpicked and criticized more than any Tigers manager prior to him, combined.

But would we have nitpicked and criticized, if the team was dreadful?

Isiah Thomas, the great Pistons point guard, once said that fans don’t boo nobodies.

Translated: only the irrelevant escape feeling the heat.

The very fact that Jim Leyland, in his eight years managing the Tigers, faced so much criticism, is actually a testament to the man.

Leyland started winning as soon as he got to Detroit, and except for 2008, he never really stopped.

We started caring about the Tigers again when he arrived, and we have never really stopped.

Like him or not, that much is irrefutable.

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2013 ALCS: Keys for the Detroit Tigers Against Boston in Game 3

After a dramatic two-game split in Boston, the Detroit Tigers return home for a crucial Game 3 in the first of three consecutive games to be played at Comerica Park.

Despite a late-game collapse in which Detroit allowed five Boston runs over the final two innings of Sunday’s Game 2 loss, a combined one-hitter from Tigers’ pitchers in Game 1 gives Detroit a theoretical chance to win the ALCS at home.

Before looking too far ahead, here are four keys for the Tigers in Tuesday’s Game 3:


1. Start strong

Detroit’s starting pitchers have been outstanding during the playoffs, and especially so far in the ALCS. Game 1 and 2 starters Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer combined for 13 scoreless innings, surrendering only two hits while striking out 25 Boston batters.

Game 3 starter Justin Verlander pitched 15 scoreless innings against Oakland in the ALDS, allowing six hits and recording 21 strikeouts in two starts. And no, those numbers don’t come from a video game.

Verlander pitched just once against the Red Sox during the regular season, allowing four runs and seven hits in only five innings pitched on June 23. The Tigers Game 3 starter admitted that despite getting roughed up earlier in the season, his game plan against the top-ranked Red Sox lineup hasn’t changed:

“I think the only way you combat that is be aggressive,” Verlander said in a press conference on Monday. “Throw a lot of strikes and pound the strike zone.”


2. Dirks’ Day 

The starting left fielder for most of the regular season, Andy Dirks will make his first start of the postseason on Tuesday, batting ninth in Jim Leyland’s lineup.

Dirks batted .256 in 131 games during the regular season with 9 home runs and 37 RBIs, but is only 3-for-26 (.115) since September 21. Dirks has the potential to provide a noticeable upgrade at the plate from struggling utilityman Don Kelly, who started Game 2 in left field and is 0-for-4 in the ALCS.


3. Contain Boston’s 1-4 hitters

Not surprisingly, Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz are huge factors in Major League Baseball’s top scoring offense. But the high percentage of the Red Sox offense coming from their 1-4 hitters is alarming.

Four of Boston’s seven hits on Sunday came from the first four, and five of Boston’s six runs were driven in by Pedroia and Ortiz. Ellsbury, Victorino and Ortiz lead the Red Sox in batting averagebatting .375, .333, and .300, respectivelywhile Pedroia is fifth, batting .261.

The four have scored 19 of the team’s 32 runs during the playoffs and have recorded 18 of 28 RBIs. If Verlander has success against Boston’s first four, the Red Sox will have to rely on Jarrod Saltalamacchia for offense, and the slumping bats of Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, Will Middlebrooks, and Mike Napoli.


4. Fix the bullpen

Despite an impressive performance in Game 1, the Tigers bullpen struggled mightily in Game 2, allowing all six Boston runs and ruining a career outing for Scherzer. Tigers relievers Al Alburquerque, Drew Smyly and Joaquin Benoit have postseason ERAs of 9.00, 6.75 and 5.79, respectively.

That should explain everything.

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Detroit Tigers: Jeff Kobernus Will Make a Surprise Impact in 2013

A month ago, most people outside of Detroit didn’t know who Jeff Kobernus was.

But this season, Kobernus will be on everyone’s radar, and will make a surprise impact for the Detroit Tigers.

Kobernus, a natural second baseman from San Leandro, Calif., was the Washington Nationals‘ second-round pick in the 2009 MLB June Amateur Draft out of University of California Berkley.

The 24-year-old spent most of last season with the Nationals’ Double-A affiliate, Harrisburg, where he batted .282 with a .325 on-base percentage, one home run and 19 RBI in 82 games.

While those numbers aren’t anything to bat an eyelash at, Kobernus caught the attention of major league scouts after stealing 42 bases in 53 attempts last season.

His 42 stolen bases—in 82 games, mind you—was twice as many as the Tigers’ leading base-stealer last season, Quintin Berry.

Kobernus was a Rule 5 pickup for the Tigers last December, and although he has played second base his whole professional career, his best chance to produce in Detroit for now will be in left field, platooning with Andy Dirks.

Manager Jim Leyland has made it no secret he’s intrigued with having a right-handed hitter platooning in left field to give the Tigers an edge against left-handed pitching, and so far, Kobernus has held his own against lefties this spring.

He’s hitting .333 (4-for-12) with a triple, an RBI and three walks against left-handers in Grapefruit League action, and batting .294 (10-for-34), overall.

Andy Dirks is hitting .308, with one home run and two RBI in 26 at-bats this spring, but Dirks is only entering his third major league season and has been plagued with injuries in both of his first two years.

Leyland has had his eye on Kobernus throughout the spring, and likes his plate approach as well as weapon of speed he brings to the Tigers.

“I thought he had two or three outstanding at-bats,” Leyland said to MLive.com’s Chris Iott after Saturday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays. “Terrific at-bats, starting with the first one of the game. He worked a walk after getting in a hole. The at-bat he had in the last inning was a terrific at-bat.”

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Why the Detroit Tigers and Brian Wilson Are the Perfect Fit

The Detroit Tigers need to make a strong effort in attempting to sign closer Brian Wilson who is coming off Tommy John surgery but yet expected to be healthy by Opening Day according to Tim Brown at Yahoo! Sports.



Scott Miller at CBS Sports mentioned last night on Twitter that Wilson is receiving lots of interest around baseball but didn’t specify which five teams he’s narrowed his list down to.



Hopefully the Tigers are on that list.

Wilson, who according to Henry Shulman from the SF Chronicle was upset at being released from the San Francisco Giants, would provide a low risk/high reward potential with the Tigers in a “win-now” mode.



If Wilson wants a strong team with an opportunity to win and anchor the bullpen, then Detroit is the right place for him. He can be on a winning team with a strong lineup and great starting pitching that will give him the opportunities to earn saves.

On the Tigers side there are absolutely no negatives in signing Wilson and giving him an opportunity to win the closer role. He’d come cheaper than other candidates in terms of dollars and length of contract, not cost the team a draft pick like Rafael Soriano would, and has proven himself in high pressure situations.

The Tigers could either sign Wilson for a one-year deal and give him the opportunity to re-establish himself or offer him a two-year deal with the second being a club option at a much higher salary (which I’d prefer). This way, if Bruce Rondon does develop and prove he can handle the closer job then the Tigers and Wilson could part ways after the season, both having benefited from their short-term marriage.

Wilson, who has already gone through two Tommy John surgeries, is a great teammate and would fit right into the Tigers clubhouse.

Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland are known for their honesty with players so Wilson would sign knowing that there could be a competition in spring training with Rondon and that he could be a setup man.

Based on the stories I’ve read over the years, I don’t believe Wilson would have a problem with Rondon and would help mentor the young reliever knowing full well his time in Detroit could be cut short by Rondon. Plus, if Wilson loses the closer role competition and the Tigers find out once the season starts that Rondon is too young for the role, then they have an experienced second option.

Wilson would also embrace the city of Detroit; the fans would love his quirky nature and hardworking mentality.

There is too much upside for both parties not to make a deal work, and the Tigers definitely offer Wilson the best chance to show the Giants what a bad mistake it was to release him.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section if you think Brian Wilson and the Tigers are a good match.

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Detroit Tigers: Prior to Jim Leyland, They Weren’t Relevant

They each took their turns, none lasting more than three years, sometimes less than a full season. Each had, in his own mind, a fantasy that he could be the man who would bring relevance back to baseball in Detroit.

George “Sparky” Anderson left the Tigers after the 1995 season, the organization a shambles and the talent as thin as onion skin. Sparky wasn’t getting any help from the scouting guys as he steered the Tigers through the first half of the 1990s before retiring. The decision makers kept rolling the dice on draft day and those dice kept coming up snake eyes. By ’95, the Tigers’ farm system was bereft of Grade A, big league talent.

So it was for the 10 years after Sparky left that the Tigers shuffled managers in and out of town. There was a revolving door at Metro Airport for the baseball skippers.

Sparky managed in Detroit for almost 17 full seasons. He was Detroit baseball every bit as those named Whitaker, Trammell, Gibson, Morris and Parrish.

But after 1995, Sparky was gone and the brass upstairs had a devil of a time finding a suitable replacement. It wasn’t ever an easy task leading the big league impostors that management let wear Tigers uniforms in those days, but ultimately you’re judged on wins and losses, and Tigers managers post-Sparky had a lot more losses.

Finding a replacement for Sparky as manager was Randy Smith’s first task after being named general manager in December 1995. At his introductory presser, I asked Smith cold: did the next Tigers manager need to have big league experience?

Smith, tanned and looking very much the California from where he came, pursed his lips and paused.

“No,” he said, drawing the word out. “I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s a prerequisite.”

It wasn’t. Smith hired Buddy Bell, a decent ballplayer in his day, but with zero, zilch, nada big league managing experience.

Bell’s first season as Tigers manager was a disaster. Bedeviled by the shockingly bad pitchers he was provided, Bell led the Tigers to a 53-109 record in 1996. The team ERA was 6.38. It’s amazing the Tigers won even 53 games.

Bell lasted until the end of August, 1998. One of those hurried press conferences was called, where it was revealed that Bell had been given the ziggy—that Detroit word for coaches being fired—and that one of his coaches, Larry Parrish, was being elevated to manager.

Parrish was another decent big league ballplayer who had zero, zilch, nada managing experience at the major league level. But Parrish would be manager, saddled with that caveat title of “interim,” sports speak for “until we find someone better.”

The Tigers didn’t find anyone better, apparently, because Parrish was asked to come back and manage for 1999.

After an underwhelming year, the Tigers decided they needed to find someone better after all, and dumped Parrish to bring in former Milwaukee skipper Phil Garner.

Garner’s nickname from his playing days with the Oakland A’s and Pittsburgh Pirates was “Scrap Iron,” for his gritty play and tendency to play with his uniform dirty all the time.

Garner had done an OK job in Milwaukee, but he was hardly a blue chip prospect when he arrived in Detroit in 2000, the first year of Comerica Park.

Garner lasted two seasons and the first week of a third, when the new team president decided to sack his GM and manager on the same day.

The president, Dave Dombrowski, hired just five months earlier, gave both GM Smith and manager Garner the ziggy at the same time, booting them both out the door with the Tigers drowning in mediocrity.

Dombrowski named bench coach Luis Pujols the new (interim) manager. The Tigers were going backwards, it seemed. Pujols not only had no previous big league managing experience, he hadn’t even been a decent player.

Pujols finished an excruciating 55-106 season before Dombrowski had seen enough and turned a legendary player into a sacrificial lamb.

Dombrowski canned Pujols and turned the keys of his Edsel over to Alan Trammell, who had the requisite NONE next to the line that said Previous Big League Managing Experience.

But at least Trammell had been a good player.

Alan Trammell had no chance of winning with the sorry excuse for a roster that he had been provided. His hiring, and subsequent naming of Kirk Gibson as bench coach, was a public relations stunt, and no more—designed to attempt to distract the fans from the disgraceful baseball being played.

Trammell lasted three seasons, the first of which was 2003’s 43-119 debacle.

When I asked Randy Smith back in 1995 if previous big league managing experience was crucial to becoming Tigers skipper, I had no idea that the answer would be no for the next decade.

After Sparky hung up his spikes and put away his pipe in 1995, the Tigers went from Buddy Bell to Larry Parrish to Phil Garner to Luis Pujols to Alan Trammell. The Not-So-Fab Five.

Prior to Jim Leyland’s arrival seven years ago, Tigers baseball was wandering aimlessly, devoid of a personality, without relevance. They had fallen behind even the Pistons in terms of buzz.

Leyland, hired by Dombrowski in October 2005, definitely had big league managing experience, though his last taste of it was in 1999, when he did an admittedly poor job in his one year in Colorado.

Six years off rejuvenated him, and Leyland’s relationship with Dombrowski (they won a World Series together in Florida in 1997) didn’t hurt, either. So Leyland took the job, a job which had been a graveyard for managers since 1995.

In the Jim Leyland Era, the Tigers have won two division titles, appeared in three postseasons, and won two league pennants. Yet his approval rating seems to bob around the 50 percent mark; you either love him or you hate him.

That’s the price of relevance. The only worse thing than being talked about is not being talked about, a noted wordsmith once said. If you took the fans’ venom for the Not-So-Fab Five and combined it, it still wouldn’t equal that which is heaped on Leyland on a daily basis.

The price of relevance.

Whether you like him or not, Leyland will be back, managing the Tigers in 2013. It will be his eighth year at the helm in Detroit. Only Sparky Anderson and Hughie Jennings have managed the Tigers longer than that in franchise history.

Leyland hasn’t delivered a World Series championship yet, but people are talking about the Tigers like never before. Certainly more than they talked about them in the decade prior to his hiring.

The Tigers are relevant, and have been since 2006. So do with that what you will.

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Jim Leyland: Will Detroit Tigers Manager Join the Elite Club?

Jim Leyland is heading back to the World Series. Already sporting an elusive World Series ring, could it be possible he will soon have one for each hand? No other current manager has more than one. With Tony LaRussa stepping down last year (he has three) and Joe Torre’s retirement after the 2010 season (he has four), Leyland can become the only active manager with more than one. But does that make him an elite manager?

To be a member of the club you not only need lots of wins, but you absolutely must have at least one ring. Still there are some managers who own a ring but do not have a great number of wins. So what about two championships? Is that enough for elite status?

Rating managers can certainly be subjective. Wins and championships make it easy, but other factors like game strategy, likeability, evaluating player talent, winning in clutch situations and discipline can be up for discussion. Some managers are task oriented; others are passionate instrumental leaders. The great ones are both, and they win with great players or mediocre teams.

Let’s take a look at the great baseball managers based simply on wins and championships.

Connie Mack, John McGraw, Tony LaRussa, Casey Stengel, Bucky Harris and Joe McCarthy combined many wins with championships. Mack has the most wins with 3,731 and has five championships, but he also has more losses than wins. McGraw is second in wins (2,763) with three championships. McGraw, who was a great player, also had a .586 winning percentage. LaRussa is third in wins with 2,728 and has won three championships. Old timer Bucky Harris, with 2,158 wins and three championships, is right there at the top.

Perhaps the greatest manager ever was Joe McCarthy, who is eighth in wins (2,125), owns a .615 winning percentage and won seven championships. Lefty Gomez once said that after he had pitched a four-hitter in the front end of a double header, he pulled out a fifth of vodka in the bullpen and was almost through it when “Joe Mac” came out to talk to him. He didn’t care if Gomez had guzzled the vodka. He told him “the other starter had hurt his arm and you have to pitch the second game as well.’  Gomez said “there was just no way he could that man down.” The Hall of Famer went out and pitched another four- hitter. Joe McCarthy had that respect.

What about the charismatic Casey Stengel? He may be eleventh in wins (1,905), but he won seven championships. Stengel was such a colorful character that his personality alone made him a great manager. His players loved him.

Miller Huggins only has 1,413 wins but has three championships.

You can’t overlook the great Dodgers managers. Walter Alston has 2,040 wins and four championships, Leo “The Lip” Durocher has 2,008 wins and four championships and Alston’s protege Tommy Lasorda has 1,599 wins and has won three championships. The Dodgers have their very own elite club of managers.

The late Sparky Anderson is sixth on the list in wins (2,194) with three World Series rings. The late Dick Williams won two championships and is twentieth in wins (1,571). Both elite managers.

Recently retired managers LaRussa and Torre are right there with the elite, with Torre having 2,326 wins and 4 championships and LaRussa 2,728 wins and 3 championships. LaRussa coached for 33 years. Torre struggled early as a manager but proved himself in the late1990s, winning three World Series championships in a row from 1998-2000.

We must measure an elite manager by wins and championships, but what about one of the best player’s manager ever, Bobby Cox? He only won one World Series but has 2,504 wins and five pennants. Most baseball people would say he is an elite manager.

As Jim Leyland waits for his attempt at his second World Series ring, he also awaits his shot at history. Leyland is fifteenth on the list of victories with 1,676. He has one World Series ring. The Detroit Tigers are poised to win the championship. Standing in their way will be either the Cardinals or the Giants.

The Giants have their own great manager in Bruce Bochy. With his Giants teetering on elimination, Bochy has 1,454 wins and one ring. He will be a formidable opponent should they get to the Series.  He too would then be poised to accept elite status, but the elder Jim Leyland will be waiting.

Should the Cardinals get there under Mike Matheny, he will have his work cut out for him as a rookie manager. Leyland will be waiting for him too.

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Why Jim Leyland Deserves More Credit for the Detroit Tigers’ Resurgence

Russell Martin, a good baseball player having a bad year, almost poisoned the Tigers earlier this week.

Martin, the New York Yankees catcher, is hitting below .200 for the season—well below his career mark (going into this year) of .272. But despite his failure to get a hit rate of over 80 percent, Martin shot the hearts of Tigers fans into their throats on Tuesday night.

It was the ninth inning, the Tigers clinging to a 6-4 lead, and closer Jose Valverde was having one of those ninth innings that all closers sometimes have—the kind where he leads the fans, like a demented pied piper, to the gates of Hell and back again.

Valverde was as wobbly as a punch-drunk prize fighter. And even the weak-hitting Martin wasn’t an antidote.

With runners on first and second and two outs, a run already in, Martin laced a Valverde fastball deep into the left-field corner. For sure, it was a double; the only question was: Would the hit score both runners and tie the game?

Raul Ibanez scored easily from second base. Chugging around second and heading for third at full speed was the recently acquired, future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki.

Would Ichiro round third and dare try to score the tying run?

He would have, without question, had it not been for one very well-timed defensive replacement.

Quintin Berry, so fleet of foot, had been sent to play left field in the eighth inning by manager Jim Leyland, bumping the competent but slightly slower Andy Dirks over to right field.

And it was because Berry, not Dirks, was the one who raced to field Martin’s double, that Ichiro was unable or unwilling to try for home plate.

Even the fact that Berry is left-handed, which meant he’d have to turn his body after scooping up the baseball before throwing it, didn’t sway Ichiro toward going for it.

Even though there were two outs, and baseball axioms say that making the final out of the game at home plate in a one-run contest is not without honor, Ichiro still wasn’t convinced to lower his head and try to score the tying run.

All because the sprinting Berry was upon Martin’s batted ball as if he was wearing a red cape and a big “S” on his chest—for Speed.

Ichiro stayed at third base. The score stayed 6-5. And that’s where both stayed after Valverde managed to strike out the next batter—Curtis Granderson, the kewpie doll center fielder for the Yankees, who still makes the women swoon in Detroit.

After the game, the dunderheads who call into the sports talk radio shows lit up the switchboard with venom.

The Tigers had won a big game over the vaunted Yankees—two in a row to open the four-game series—and better yet, they kept the pressure on the first-place Chicago White Sox.

You wouldn’t know it by the cranks with their cell phones.

The Tigers won, but it was all about Leyland—as usual.

A baseball season allows for Monday morning quarterbacking 162 times a year—and more if your team gets into the playoffs. It’s part of the fun—I get that.

But sometimes, those calling into the talk shows ought to press their phone’s mute button before opening their mouths. They’d save themselves some embarrassment.

The Tigers won Tuesday, and right away the callers to the postgame show on 97.1 The Ticket started laying into Leyland.

Why didn’t Leyland leave Octavio Dotel, who pitched a perfect eighth inning, in for the ninth inning? Why does he keep using Valverde at all, for that matter? The Tigers won despite Leyland! Why is Leyland even around to make these decisions to begin with?

And so on.

I listened to the drivel for about 30 minutes and not once did a caller chime in and say, “Thank goodness Leyland put Berry in the game! If not, Ichiro would have scored and maybe the Tigers would have lost!”

Heaven forbid someone give the skipper some credit.

It may have been Managing 101 to some, to insert the lightning-quick Berry into the game as a late-inning defensive replacement, but Leyland did it and it worked, no matter how elementary of a decision some may think it was—and upon further review, it wasn’t all that elementary.

Because, with someone like Dirks, who’s not a slow poke, already playing left field, some managers might have stayed with the status quo. They may have figured they had enough speed and range out there with a player of Dirks’ caliber. Berry might have been on the bench instead of chasing down Martin’s double.

Yet there was Quintin Berry, bless his jackrabbit soul, pouncing on Martin’s hit and doing it so fast that Ichiro, another non-slowpoke, was forced to remain at third base.

The decision to put Berry into the game kept the tying run 90 feet from home plate. It was instinctive, thinking-ahead managing at its best.

But again, not if you listened to the blowhards talking into their cell phones after the game.

Leyland is fired everyday in Detroit. The fans have been firing him for years. He was fired even last year, when the Tigers ran away with their division with a second-half blitzkrieg that folks (like me) had been bitching hadn’t occurred in the Leyland Era prior to 2011.

There’s a Facebook page devoted to firing Leyland. Entire blogs exist with firing Leyland as their theme.

Few of the wannabe Leyland executioners have any replacements in mind, but that’s another column for another day.

To the manager’s credit, Leyland not only doesn’t mind the monotonous second-guessing, he actually seems to like it.

Speaking to Mike Stone on The Ticket Thursday morning, Leyland said, “We’re in a pennant race. Everyone’s into it. Everyone’s a manager. I think that’s great, I really do. I have no problem with that whatsoever.”

Leyland knows, too, that the second-guessing is only going to get worse and more pervasive—and, in a lot of cases, more asinine, as the race heats up down the stretch.

Another longtime baseball manager once summed up second-guessers thusly.

“A second guesser,” legendary Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda once said, “is someone who needs two guesses to get it right.”

Leyland needed just one guess Tuesday night with Quintin Berry. It’s one reason why Leyland has 1,649 big league wins—and counting—as a manager. And not one of those 1,649 wins came with the crutch of a second guess.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Detroit Tigers Manager Jim Leyland Should Emulate Tampa Bay Rays Joe Maddon

The Detroit Tigers continue to underachieve in 2012 and it’s time for manager Jim Leyland to mix things up in the clubhouse like Joe Maddon of the Tampa Bay Rays

While it’s true that the Tigers have looked better against the Minnesota Twins recently, the team is not out of the woods yet. After all, they’ve only won back-to-back games once since mid-April. Still floating around .500 heading into June, the team needs to change their routine in order to have some fun heading into the summer months. 

Baseball is a very superstitious game as clubs stick with what they know even when things are going bad. Tigers’ fans know Leyland is adamant about how he runs the ship in Detroit. He typically gets short with the media, can’t stand whiny fans and is loyal to his lineup. 

Leyland himself knows his lineup with either play themselves into contention or play him out of town. One admirable thing about the Tigers skipper is that he sticks to his guns, regardless of what his pundits think.

While Leyland’s attitude and philosophy is known to all, it’s time to become open to new ideas. He should study Maddon of the Rays and how he keeps his clubhouse loose. It may not be Leyland’s “style,” but it’s worth a shot. 

Maddon is a master at keeping a smile on his players’ faces no matter how bad things are going. He’s been known to have themed road trips, which spawns camaraderie and is just enough to take his guys’ minds off baseball a bit.

Recently, Maddon did the unthinkable when he placed slugger Carlos Pena in the leadoff role when he was struggling. Pena had never hit leadoff before, but he hit a homer that day. While Pena won’t remain as the Rays leadoff hitter, Maddon’s move brought a fresh breath of air to the clubhouse and sparked Pena. 

Before the trip to Minnesota, fans didn’t see many smiles in the Tigers’ dugout in quite some time. While it’s nice to see, keeping a smile on their faces is the key to success. 

Not many people see what goes on behind closed doors when Leyland speaks to his team. There’s no doubt that his players respect him, but do they still believe in what he’s saying? In order to ensure continuity, Leyland must come out of character and surprise his men with some unexpected spontaneity. 

A sudden juggle in the lineup or good laugh with his men may just send the Tigers on the tear that fans have been waiting for all season. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Leyland Skeptics Irrational: Detroit Tigers Are Doing Just Fine

The Tigers are 17-18, so it’s time for the armchair-general managers to come out of the floorboards and call for the heads of Jim Leyland, Lloyd McClendon, David Dombrowski–-you name it.

It’s true the Tigers were the prohibitive favorite to win their division leading into Opening Day, but it never ceases to amaze how a fanbase can so quickly and magnanimously provide “solutions” for a ballclub hovering at a .500 win percentage. As if, suddenly, they have figured out that Jim Leyland and his coaching staff do not know what they are doing.

Rarely does a fanbase ask itself, “Are we jumping the gun? Is there something Jim Leyland knows that we don’t?”

If skeptics asked themselves these questions honestly and sincerely, they’d come to know that the answer to the last question is a resounding “yes.” Jim Leyland does know something that we don’t.

He knows enough to be the winningest manager currently still active in baseball. He knows enough to have won over 1,600 games, and a World Series ring. 

What’s most important, however, is just as recently as last season, he was experienced enough to take a struggling team (17-18) to end the season 95-67, winning the division. He knew not to panic.

Coincidentally, 35 games into this year, Jim Leyland’s Tigers are at 17-18. He is not panicking.

When he took the Marlins to their first WS championship in ’97, his team was at 19-16. He has shown the ability to manage a team through rough patches.

Here is something skeptics don’t know about Leyland: Even though he’d never say it openly, he knows the AL Central is weak. He’s not a dimwit. He knows he has plenty of time. Critics of Leyland think they have him all figured out, and that Leyland simply doesn’t get it. But, the skipper is biding his time. 

He has plenty of weapons, some of which are very cold right now, and some of which are very young. He understands that it’s too early to fire his hitting coach, give up on hitters or unnecessarily stretch rookie pitchers out.

My case and point for this is last night’s early removal of Drew Smyly. Leyland pulled him after giving up four runs over five innings. The Tigers had the lead, 5-4. And to fans’ dismay, Leyland pulled Smyly after throwing only 69 pitches.

On initial thought, one might find this to have been the wrong move; the rookie’s outing went relatively smoothly. Smyly settled down each time he gave up runs, and his pitch count was quite low.

On second thought, careful consideration and a bit of intellectual respect paid to Jim Leyland reveals a different answer. Leyland isn’t required to leave the rookie in. This isn’t September. The Tigers are two games out in a very weak division. What’s the point in sending the kid back out to potentially get rattled when you have a fresh bullpen that needs work?

Leyland understands the consequence of losing a game, and sometimes chooses to risk it on the behalf of a few struggling players needing to prove themselves worthy. Leyland also uses these opportunities to give call-ups innings at the major league level, and to give his underachieving hitters more at-bats. This sort of early season managing pays dividends down the stretch. 

Compared to the years past, Leyland seems quite calm in his postgame interviews, even after losing games. This year, he seems more relaxed.

Leyland knows what he’s doing and rest assured, when the time comes, he will not be resting players as often. He won’t baby his pitchers, nor will he tolerate poor batting in the lineup. This is Jim Leyland’s track record—easy-breezy starts, no kid-gloves down the stretch. Lest we forget last year’s torrid finish of 20-6.

The Tigers skipper has been around the block. He’s seen better divisions, and he’s managed good teams before. He deserves a bit more respect than he’s getting. Fans should know that he’s not panicked, and they shouldn’t be either.


Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Detroit Tigers: Sizing Up the Competition for the Fifth Starter

When the Detroit Tigers wisely decided not to bring back Brad Penny following an offense-aided 10-10 record in 2012, the competition for the fifth starter in their rotation was underway.

Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello represent a strong—but incomplete—rotation. Not only are they a man short, but they’re all right-handed pitchers and lack the the lefty to complement them and keep opposing teams off-balance.

The lack of a left-hander could come back to haunt the Tigers as the team presumed to be their biggest competition for the AL Central crown, the Cleveland Indians, feature a predominately left handed lineup.

The Tigers are less than two weeks away from their first game, and there is no clear-cut candidate for that final rotation spot. Because of off-days in their early schedule they technically don’t need a fifth starter until April 15 at the earliest, so Jim Leyland and Dave Dombrowski have a little, but not much, time to make a decision.

Here’s how the top contenders shake out right now.

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