Jim Leyland (Photo credit: Keith Allison/Public Domain)
Jim Leyland announced this morning he is resigning as manager of the Detroit Tigers, after the Tigers loss to the Boston Red Sox in the AL Championship Series, 4 games to 2. Leyland had informed the Tigers front office of his decision on September 7, while on a road trip in Kansas City, and told his players after they were eliminated on Saturday night. Leyland has been in professional baseball as a player, coach, and manager for the last 50 years, and says he will continue to be involved in the Tigers organization in a role yet to be determined.
Leyland, in his 8 seasons in Detroit, has become one of the Tigers all-time greats. His 700 regular-season managerial wins rank 3rd in franchise history, behind Hall-of-Famer Sparky Anderson and Hughie Jennings (who managed the Tigers from 1907-1920). This year Leyland joined Jennings as the only two managers to take the Tigers to the playoffs in 3 consecutive seasons.
Leyland took over in 2006 for a franchise that had not had a winning season since 1993, and had finished either last or next to last in their division in 9 of those 13 seasons. In one season Leyland took a previously struggling franchise to the AL Wild Card title, before winning the ALCS over the Oakland Athletics on a Magglio Ordonez walk-off homer to win Game 4 and complete a series sweep. The Tigers eventually lost in the World Series, 4-1, to the St. Louis Cardinals, but baseball was back in Detroit.
In 2007, the Tigers finished 2nd in the division, behind a Cleveland Indians team who would get within a win of the World Series. The next year the Tigers were in rebuilding mode, and finished 5th in the AL Central. In 2009, the Tigers were back in contention, and tied for the AL Central title, but lost the tiebreaker game to the Minnesota Twins. The following year the Tigers contended, but fell short, finishing at .500 with an 81-81 record. In 2011, the Tigers returned to the playoffs, winning the AL Central by 15 games, and made it to the ALCS, before losing to the Texas Rangers in 6 games in the ALCS. Last year, Detroit won a tight division race with the Chicago White Sox, before beating the Oakland Athletics 3-2 in the ALDS and sweeping the New York Yankees in the ALCS to return to the World Series. Unfortunately for Leyland and company, the San Francisco Giants swept the Tigers to win the World Series.
It can be said a big part of the TIgers’ success is Leyland in the dugout.
After the 2006 and 2012 World Series losses, and this year’s elimination, the Tigers franchise is still looking for its first World Series title since 1984.
But managing the Tigers isn’t the entire story of Leyland’s managerial career. His managerial career also included stints with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Florida Marlins, and the Colorado Rockies.
Before that, he spent years in the minor leagues as both a player and a manager. He was signed as a 19-year old catcher by, ironically, the Detroit Tigers, in 1963, and played 7 seasons in the minors, never getting past Double-A. By his final year of playing career, he was already acting as an unofficial coach for the Montgomery Rebels, the Tigers Double-A affiliate. He then managed around the Tigers farm system from 1972-1981. He left the Tigers franchise in 1982 to become Tony La Russa’s third-base coach with the Chicago White Sox from 1982-1985 (that’s quite a coaching staff).
After the stint working under La Russa, who would go on to win 6 pennants and 3 World Series with the Athletics and Cardinals, Leyland got his first major league managerial job, working for the Pittsburgh Pirates, beginning in 1986. The Pirates had been struggling through the previous few seasons since their 1979 World Series title. In Leyland’s first three seasons, the Pirates finished 6th, 4th, and 2nd in the old NL East (the Pirates are now in the NL Central after the 1994 re-alignment). After a setback in 1989, the Pirates won 3 straight division titles in 1990-92, losing the NL Championship Series to the Reds in 6 games in 1990 and to the Braves in 7 games in 1991 and 1992. After the 1992 season, much of the Pirates roster and front office was completely revamped, and the team lost talent such as Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, Tim Wakefield, and Andy Van Slyke. As a result, Leyland struggled for the next four seasons, before resigning at the end of the 1996 season. One of his staff in Pittsburgh was current New York Mets manager Terry Collins, who today wears #10 in honor of Leyland, who also wears #10.
After Leyland resigned in Pittsburgh, he was quickly hired by the Florida Marlins, a 1993 expansion who had struggled in their first four seasons but had built a little bit of momentum with a 80-82 record in 1996. In 1997, Leyland’s first year, he led the Marlins to the Wild Card title, before defeating the Atlanta Braves in 6 games for the NL Pennant, and winning the World Series in 7 games over the Cleveland Indians. Edgar Renteria’s walk-off hit in the bottom of the 11th of Game 7 is a classic World Series moment often played today during collections of postseason moments. The Marlins had become the fastest expansion team to win a World Series (a record since broken by the Arizona Diamondbacks). After the title, the team was dismantled in the so-called “fire-sale”, a technique repeated when the Marlins won another title six years later. Leyland remained as manager, but after a 54-108 record in 1998, he resigned, saying he thought his job was to win championships, but that wasn’t what the ownership wanted. The title he won in Florida was his only World Series championship as a manager.
After leaving Florida, Leyland had an insignificant stint as manager of the Colorado Rockies, going 72-90 in 1999, before resigning just one year into a three-year contract. Leyland would later regret his abrupt departure from an organization that had treated him well, saying he was frustrated with trying to manage a pitching staff in the Denver altitude (this was in the days before baseballs used at Coors Field were placed in a humidor), and thought he would never manage again.
From 2000 until 2005, Leyland worked as a scout for the St. Louis Cardinals in the Pittsburgh area, generally scouting Pirates games. He wanted to get back into managing, and saw an opportunity when the Phillies job was open in the offseason after the 2004 season. That job eventually went to Charlie Manuel, but Leyland saw another opportunity to manage the Tigers, the organization he had begun his career with, when Alan Trammel was released as manager. The Tigers hired Leyland, who was 61 at the time, and they haven’t regretted it.
Leyland is one of seven managers to win pennants in both leagues, and joins La Russa and Bobby Cox as one of three managers to win Manager of the Year in both leagues.
Now the question will be raised if Jim Leyland should be a Hall-of-Famer (assuming his managerial career is over). Leyland won 1,769 major league games (regular-season), which is 15th all-time, won 3 Manager of the Year awards, 6 division titles, 3 pennants, and a World Series in an organization that may be the least likely in baseball to ever win a title. If I had a Hall of Fame ballot, there would be no doubt in my mind that I would definitely vote for him. The fact Leyland is such a class act should nail it down even more. Yet, there are still skeptics (then again, there are a few people who argue that Chipper Jones is not a Hall-of-Famer). In an ESPN.com survey today, 80% of readers said that Leyland should be in the Hall of Fame, while only 20% of readers said he should not.
Leyland had, as recently as this summer, shown a desire to manage into next year and beyond. Tigers executives said both publicly and to Leyland that he was welcome to manage as long as he wanted. Leyland, however, said the fuel was running low, particularly on long road trips late this season, and that “it’s time”. I personally thought that if the Tigers had won the World Series or even if they had won the AL Pennant that Leyland would retire (going out on top), similar to Tony La Russa in 2011. Leyland, however, had already made his decision privately in early September, before publicly announcing his plans today.
Who will replace Leyland? If the Tigers choose to promote someone within the organization, there would be a couple of likely candidates. Hitting coach Lloyd McClendon and bench coach Gene Lamont both have major league managerial experience, with Lamont being named AL Manager of the Year in 1993. Third-base coach Tom Brookens has minor league managerial experience. Another less likely candidates would be first-base coach Rafael Belliard. If the Tigers choose to go the route of the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia Phillies, and Miami Marlins in recent hirings of recent major league players, there are a couple of candidates. One would be Phil Nevin, who played until 2006 and is currently the manager of the Toledo Mud Hens, the Tigers AAA affiliate. Other candidates would be Dave Martinez, currently the Rays bench coach, and Brad Ausmus, a former Tiger. Current and/or recent managers that could be pursued include Dusty Baker, Charlie Manuel (although the age of both Baker and Manuel may be a deterrent), Kirk Gibson (former Tiger), and Ozzie Guillen. Actually, the only one of those four with a current job is Gibson, with the Diamondbacks. Tony Pena recently managed the Dominican Republic team to the World Baseball Classic title, and Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo has Tigers ties. Lastly, Alan Trammell is a Tigers legend from his playing days, but is also a former manager; his miserable stint came with some terrible rosters, so perhaps he’ll be given another chance. Don’t be surprised at all if the Tigers manager next year is someone not on this list, as I have read other names mentioned in news articles and blog posts today.
Jim Leyland Managerial Record
(Year: Team, Record, Finish, Postseason)
1986: Pittsburgh, 64-98, 6th, none
1987: Pittsburgh, 80-82, 4th, none
1988: Pittsburgh, 85-75, 2nd, none
1989: Pittsburgh, 74-88, 5th, none
1990: Pittsburgh, 95-67, 1st, lost to Reds in NLCS (NL Manager of the Year)
1991: Pittsburgh, 98-64, 1st, lost to Braves in NLCS
1992: Pittsburgh, 96-66, 1st, lost to Braves in NLCS (NL Manager of the Year)
1993: Pittsburgh, 75-87, 5th, none
1994: Pittsburgh, 53-61, 3rd, n/a (strike-shortened season)
1995: Pittsburgh, 58-86, 5th, none
1996: Pittsburgh, 73-89, 5th
1997: Florida, 92-70, 2nd, def. Indians to win World Series
1998: Florida, 54-108, 5th, none
1999: Colorado, 72-90, 5th, none
2006: Detroit, 95-67, 2nd, lost to Cardinals in World Series (AL Manager of the Year)
2007: Detroit, 88-74, 2nd, none
2008: Detroit, 74-88, 5th, none
2009: Detroit, 86-77, 2nd, none
2010: Detroit, 81-81, 3rd, none
2011: Detroit, 95-67, 1st, lost to Rangers in ALCS
2012: Detroit, 88-74, 1st, lost to Giants in World Series
2013: Detroit, 93-69, 1st, lost to Red Sox in ALCS
Career record: 1,769-1,728 (.506), 44-40 in postseason (.524)