Jim Leyland wanted a vote of confidence. He didn’t get it. He had a talk with his boss, Dave Dombrowski, but when it was done, Leyland had the same one year left on his contract that he had when it started. After Monday’s loss in rainy Chicago, cementing a last-place, 74-88 finish, Leyland returned to Detroit, packed up and drove home to Pittsburgh.
As the highway rolled past, he thought about what went wrong this season. And late Tuesday afternoon, when we spoke for a radio interview, he revealed, for the first time, that his long-term future with the Tigers was up in the air.
“I have not been extended, and I’m not gonna be extended,” Leyland said on WJR-AM (760). “Dave and I have had a conversation. There was some sense of an offer that I did not accept.
“I want to manage the Tigers. I have every intention of managing the Tigers. I’m disappointed that I did not get an extension, but I understand – well, maybe I don’t understand. ”
I don’t understand, either. Unless Dombrowski and owner Mike Ilitch want to send a message to Leyland that it’s win or leave. And maybe it is. On paper, they gave him the best team since he has been here. And it played worse than the previous two.
Still, how much of that was Leyland’s fault?
“I think we had a great year (in 2006). I think we had a good year (in 2007), and then we had one disastrous year. I’ll take my share of the blame for it. … But you can put several people up on a dartboard and if you threw a dart, you’d probably hit the right guy. … We were all guilty.” A do-or-die season in ’09
Leyland pulled no punches with his assessments – but he clearly was stung by the club’s refusal to extend him.
“Our organization failed this year. We were bad and we were unfortunate and we absolutely made no breaks and we caught no breaks.
“If you’re saying do I have any defense for this year, no, I don’t. But the overall picture, I think, it’s pretty fair on my part. But I’m a big boy. I think Dave has tough decisions to make. For whatever reason, he chose to go this direction and I respect that.
“I think if I do a good job next year, I’ll be extended. If I don’t, I’ll be fired.
“If I’d been on the last year of my contract this year, I’d have been fired instead of the coaches, because those guys were scapegoats for people not doing their jobs.
“I’m not gonna lie to anybody or beat around the bush. Chuck Hernandez and Jeff Jones basically were fired because the pitching was terrible. And people have to be accountable for this. I read one comment where Justin Verlander said, Well, I was probably part of the reason.’ No, not probably. You were one of the reasons.
“And I’m not picking on Justin Verlander, because he’s a horse. But it’s not probably.’ Let’s all face up to the music here. We didn’t do the job, including me. At the head of the class. Did not do the job. Simple. There’s no ifs, buts and all that kind of stuff. I can’t stand that kind of stuff.” At the ready with a pen
Without an extension, Leyland, 63, could be a lame-duck manager. And hiring a quality pitching coach might be tough if the boss could be gone in a year.
Still, Leyland clearly holds out hope.
“I don’t need power,” he said. “I don’t want to get paid when I’m not working. I don’t want an option. I don’t want a buyout. I want a contact and I will try and earn another contract next year. If I do, fine, and if I don’t, they can make another selection. That’s just the way it is.”
I asked if he would sign midseason – or insist in exploring the market after it was done.
“I would extend tomorrow,” he said. “I would extend in June. I would extend in July. I would extend in August. I want to manage the Tigers. And I think I deserve to manage the Tigers. But I don’t want to be anywhere where I’m not wanted.”
The Tigers would make a mistake letting him go. Think about the managers before him. This was a nutty season of injuries, underachievement, position switching and scrambled lineups. But Leyland voluntarily took more heat than his players did. I’d rather see him here long-term than some of them.
I asked if Tuesday was the longest drive home he’d had in a while. He said a guy at a Hardee’s at a truck stop did ask him for an autograph.
“So everything’s not for naught, I guess.”
He managed a laugh. Here’s hoping he gets to manage a lot more than that.