In a somewhat unexpected event — although apparently planned since at least Sept. 7 — Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland is retiring from baseball.
According to Leyland’s press conference today, during a breakfast with general manager Dave Dombrowski in Kansas City on Sept. 7, the veteran skipper confessed that this would be his final season. I’m sure Leyland wanted to go out with a little more of a bang than a tough defeat in the ALCS, but that doesn’t taint the legacy he’s left in Detroit.
He took over a Tigers’ team that couldn’t get any worse — literally. When he joined Detroit for the 2006 season, the Tigers hadn’t been to the playoffs in far too long, and were only a few years past a brutal 2003 season that left them one loss short of the modern MLB record for most losses.
But in his first season (granted Detroit had overhauled their roster to actually look like a contender) he led the Tigers to the promise land — their first World Series appearance since 1984.
Overall, one could say that Jim Leyland’s time in Detroit was a failure because he never brought home the “ship.” But one shouldn't say that — it's not a fair barometer. He took a franchise from obscurity to a contender every year, he just never won that elusive World Series. I mean hell; the Tigers won two American League Pennants and went to the playoffs four times in Leyland’s eight seasons.
That’s pretty impressive when you look at what the franchise had been. Sure, Jim had his shortcomings. Maybe he was a little stubborn. Maybe he was a little too old fashioned. And maybe he smoked too many cigarettes (not that that’s relevant at all). But he won. He brought a winning mentality to Detroit — one that he'd developed as a player and coach over many years in the MLB.
I can think of a handful of players on the current Tigers’ roster who have only played for Jim Leyland; an influence that doesn’t scare me going forward. Justin Verlander tweeted today, “What an honor playing my first 8 years with Jim Leyland. A great manager and an even better person. Thanks for believing in me. #HOF.” Coming from Verlander, I think that says all there is to say about Leyland’s importance and influence here.
As players and fans say their goodbyes to the storied manager, there remains a big question in Detroit though: who will be the new skipper? Whether or not it was time for a change doesn’t matter anymore. A change is coming and we’ll just have to wait and see how it plays out.