Jim Leyland Was One of the Last of a Dying Breed
Leyland spent 22 years managing in the Major Leagues. It’s easily forgotten how he got there. Leyland was in the minors as a player for seven years in the Tigers organization as a catcher. He wasn’t very good. In fact, he was quite bad. You have to be bad to somehow figure a way to have a slugging percentage lower than your on-base percentage. You also have to be a survivor to keep a professional job as a player for 446 games with those dreadful numbers. He became a minor league manager at 27 and worked in the Tigers organization for nine years before Tony LaRussa hired him as a coach with the White Sox.
In LaRussa, Leyland found a kindred spirit; a man who had also been a bad player and kept a job in baseball with his smarts and savvy, working his way up to being a manager in the Majors. At the time Leyland and LaRussa were younger men, both in their late-30s, early-40s, and were considered a new kind of manager from the Billy Martins of the world. Back then, there wasn’t a twenty-something general manager, a load of kids working in the front office as assistants who knew stats giving “suggestions” to the manager, the media taking to a social media outlet and critiquing decisions in real time.
The managers did what they wanted, answered the questions from the beat reporters after the game and got on with their lives having a drink in the bar, smoking a cigarette, talking the game into the wee hours and doing whatever else came to mind. Leyland never had to adapt to a young GM telling him what’s what because the ones he worked for with the Pirates, Marlins, Rockies and Tigers were of a similar mind to him and his brethren. The idea was that the GM gets the players, the manager manages the players. There were no complicated stats for Leyland to have to sift through to tell him not to pitch Doug Drabek on three days rest in St. Louis when the temperature was above 98 degrees. He managed the team. He’d handle it.