Done deal. Of course he should come back. If you want to fire Jim Leyland this year, you ought to fire 28 other managers, too. Only Bruce Bochy, the World Series winner, would keep his job.
“I really don’t know why this is such a shock to everybody,” Leyland told a media gathering Tuesday in announcing he would return for another season. Was it a shock? Not here. Leyland said all along he didn’t want to talk contract until after the season. Guess what? It’s after the season.
And what a Tigers season. A season that went further than many predicted. A season with some very high highs and a few low lows.
A season that would have tested many managers. Huge expectations. Some player flame-outs. Surges of greatness. Surges of mediocrity. A late trade for a starting pitcher. Surges of… inconsistency. Trailing by three games with 15 left. Then a playoff test, a playoff sweep and a World Series brooming.
Leyland handled it all. The net result was something 28 cities would love to have their manager achieve.
“We just beat the New York Yankees four straight,” Leyland said. “That does wonders for your ticker. We just lost four straight to San Francisco, that doesn’t help it.
“So it kind of balanced everything out. But I love it. I do.”
A player’s manager
On Sunday night, after the World Series ended, Leyland, still wearing his underclothes, his hair mussed from the sweat of the game, moved around the clubhouse and hugged his players good-bye. No big speeches. A few slaps. A few grumbled words. On to the next guy.
That typifies Leyland. He doesn’t do it with words. He doesn’t do on stage. But he does do it. He cares about his guys. Many managers wouldn’t be going around that way. Leyland, no matter how he tries to hide it, cares. He cares quite a bit. Does he fall in love too much with a guy? Maybe. Does he stand by a pitcher almost stubbornly when public sentiment is against him? Sometimes. And so what?
All that makes him is a loyal boss in the eyes of his players. And in baseball, that’s paramount. It’s 162 games. It’s nine months from spring training to the playoffs. You had better want to work for your skipper. You had better like the atmosphere he creates.
Remember, baseball managers are not hockey or basketball coaches. They are not shifting lines. They are not diagramming plays. They are not yanking players in and out, not managing a clock, not preserving time-outs.
Baseball managers set a tone, set expectations, pull pitchers and insert pinch-hitters. The rest is mostly up to the men in uniform. It’s not as if Leyland is telling Justin Verlander where to put his fastball.
“I think I got good rapport with the players,” Leyland said. “I got a lot of energy, and I see no reason why not to do this next year. Some people will probably be happy…. But I’m sure there’s some… you know, probably Tom in Royal Oak isn’t too happy right now…. Sorry, Tom, but I’m back.”
Ah, yes. Tom from Royal Oak. A nod to the “angry fan” syndrome on talk radio or the Internet. Look. I have no doubt the angry fans are sincere. But if you put one angry caller on for 5 minutes and one supportive caller on for 5 minutes, it sounds as if the entire city is split.
It ain’t necessarily so.
The right choices
The sense I get is that most people like Leyland. Polls of fans indicate that as well. Remember, Detroit is used to white-haired, deep-voiced managers who like to spew baseball truisms while hovering over their desks.
Leyland may have stuck with Jose Valverde to the point of agony, but you didn’t see him so blinded that he used him in an important World Series moment.
Leyland may have held onto Ryan Raburn or Brennan Boesch longer than was popular, but did you see them playing when it counted?
As they said in Bull Durham, it’s a long season and you gotta trust it. Leyland knows the rhythm of the game. He knows how to adjust his sails. All he has done since coming here is take the Tigers to the World Series in 2006, miss the playoffs by one game in 2009, get within two victories of a World Series in 2011, and make the Series again in 2012.
He has had one losing campaign in seven seasons.
Done deal. It’s worth noting Leyland, several years ago, told the Tigers they’d never have to negotiate salary with him again. The amount they gave him was all he wanted for any future years. And that’s what they’ll pay him next season. You know what that sounds like? A guy who knows himself, knows what he wants, and knows what he’s worth.
Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).