Jim Leyland Was One of the Last of a Dying Breed
The game Leyland was reared in is gone. Leyland loved being at the park, hitting fungoes during infield practice, bantering with the grizzled beat reporters and just being around the other baseball men. There are a precious few actual “baseball men” in the game today. Now it’s a lot of highly educated people who have degrees from MIT, Harvard and other lofty academies of higher learning and think they’re in a better position to evaluate players because of numbers crunching than Leyland with his fifty-plus years of experience in being around players and participating in live games.
Meeting with a 25-year-old kid about why Miguel Cabrera should be hitting second with reams of paper to “prove” the theory is not Leyland’s idea of baseball. Lucky for him the Tigers never got to that point. To diminish the work Leyland did with the Tigers due to strategic disagreements misses an important issue that would be made clearer if the Tigers were to hire a young man who was going to follow orders from the front office on how to deploy his players: that clubhouse with a group of highly paid veterans are not going to listen to some guy who, in their eyes, has no credibility. Put A.J. Hinch in as Tigers manager and see what happens. Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander and Prince Fielder would ignore him and Torii Hunter would openly mock him. Even the worst of the worst – players who had problems with managers everywhere they went like Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla – loved Leyland because he treated them like men.
The number of managers like Leyland are dwindling. There might eventually be a shift into the other direction again with less of a focus on numbers and a greater reliance on experience. Until then, the managers of Leyland’s ilk are dying out and baseball is missing something because of it.