Leyland steps down after eight years with Tigers
Skipper led Detroit to three consecutive division flags, two World Series appearances
DETROIT -- It's time, Jim Leyland said.
"It's time to step down from the managerial position of the Detroit Tigers," Leyland announced at a Monday morning news conference, "and accept another position yet to be determined."
Leyland made up his mind on Sept. 7, and told team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski. He told the players of his plans after Saturday's loss to the Red Sox in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series. Leyland then made it official on Monday, ending his eight-year tenure leading the team he grew up with, and a 22-year managerial career that ranks him among the most accomplished of his generation.
Leyland said he sensed the energy waning at age 68, and didn't feel it would be fair to stay on the job if the fire wasn't there. They were similar sentiments to what led him to step back from managing after the 1999 season in Colorado.
"I don't feel it would be fair for the organization, Mr. Ilitch, the front office, the players and the coaches for me to go on," Leyland said. "The fire has gone low."
This time, it appears to be for good. With front-office members, coaches, and players Torii Hunter and Don Kelly in attendance, Leyland announced his retirement from managing.
"We want to thank Jim for everything he has done over the past eight years to steer the ship and lead our ballclub to some exciting times in this town," Tigers owner Mike Ilitch said. "Jim has been instrumental in the franchise's most recent success on and off the field, and we are forever grateful. We wish the best to Jim and his family in the future."
Leyland didn't want to call it goodbye, saying he'll remain involved. His career in professional baseball, which reached 50 years this season, will continue. For someone who hit .222 as a Minor League catcher and thought he might've had to go back to the factories of Perrysburg, Ohio, it was quite a career.
Leyland worked his way up to the big leagues on a long, hard path. After more than a decade managing in the Tigers farm system and helping develop prospects such as Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker and Kirk Gibson, Leyland finally got his shot as a big league coach under Tony La Russa with the White Sox in the early 1980s. He was a relatively unknown candidate for the managerial opening in Pittsburgh when Chuck Tanner stepped down.
Once Leyland finally got his shot, success came relatively quickly. He built the Pittsburgh Pirates into a perennial contender on a small-market budget in the early 1990s, winning three consecutive National League East titles from 1990-92. He was Barry Bonds' first manager, forging a relationship that was fiery at times but fiercely loyal, and until this year remained the last Pirates manager with a winning season.
Leyland's resume was strong enough that Dombrowski looked to him when he wanted a proven manager to lead a win-now Florida Marlins team in 1997. With a cast of stars that included Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown, Moises Alou, Al Leiter and a pressure of title expectations, Leyland led the Marlins into the playoffs for the first time in their brief history, then through the postseason to a World Series championship.
That team was dismantled soon after the parade, leaving Leyland to manage a 1998 team comprised largely of prospects and role players to 108 losses. After a disappointing '99 season managing in Colorado, he stepped down and seemed ready for retirement.
For years, however, Leyland dreamed about a chance to manage Detroit. He took the job after the 2005 season and led a Tigers team that hadn't had a winning record since 1993 to heights it hadn't seen since its World Series-winning season of 1984.
The 2006 Tigers, Leyland's first team, won the AL Wild Card and went to the World Series, falling to the Cardinals in five games. It was a Cinderella story for a franchise that had seemed mired in mediocrity, but it was the start of a team that contended just about every year.
"The thing I'm proudest of is ... I came here to make talent [into] a team. I think we did that," Leyland said.
Six of Leyland's eight Tigers squads finished with a winning record. Four of them went to the playoffs. The last three won the AL Central title and advanced to at least the AL Championship Series. The 2012 team returned to the World Series, losing out to the Giants. Leyland joined Hughie Jennings from a century ago as the only managers to lead the Tigers to three consecutive postseason berths.
"Jim's tenure will be looked back on as one of the great eras in Tigers history, an era that included two World Series appearances, four ALCS appearances in eight seasons, three division titles and two American League pennants," Dombrowski said. "It has truly been an honor to work with one of the great managers in the history of the game."
Leyland managed a Cy Young Award winner in Justin Verlander, and back-to-back AL Most Valuable Player Award winners in Verlander and Miguel Cabrera. His team this season might well end up sweeping the major postseason awards between Cabrera's candidacy to repeat as MVP, Max Scherzer's emergence as a Cy Young favorite, and AL Rookie of the Year candidate Jose Iglesias.
"I'm proudest to have the privilege of managing the Detroit Tigers," Leyland said. "But really I'm being selfish, the number of wins, the number of postseason appearances. I just feel so blessed. I don't want to slight anybody, it's been just as much fun for me to manage the Ramon Santiagos as the Miguel Cabreras or Justin Verlanders."
Fitting, then, that the two players on hand were a superstar like Hunter and a role player like Kelly.
In each of the three seasons, Leyland worked without a contract for the following year. He had decided to go year to year with his deal, he said, following the example of his good friend, former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, to avoid a long-term commitment if he didn't want to manage anymore or if the Tigers wanted to go in a different direction. La Russa was among the few people Leyland consulted while coming to his decision to retire as a manager.
There had been no outward signs that Leyland was ready to call it quits. As recently as this summer, he talked about wanting to manage beyond next year, and he said that his energy level was good.
As the year went along, however, that apparently changed. He started thinking about his future as early as June, and became more serious about it as the summer went along.
"This job entails a lot more than people think," Leyland said. "There's a lot more than writing out the lineup and pulling the pitcher. Like I said, I was low on fuel and I could see it coming. The trips were starting to get tough. If you look at what we just did in the postseason, we went out back and forth twice, then flew into Boston and got in at 9 o'clock in the morning.
"Like I said, I'm going to be 69 years old, I'm not ashamed of that, I'm proud of that. But my fuel is getting a little low. That's the one thing I'm really happy about. I think I still have a chance to get a World Series ring here -- at least I think they'll give me one if they win it next year. We're just changing the guard a little bit. That's all we're doing."
Leyland's 700 regular-season managerial wins are the third most in Tigers history, trailing only Sparky Anderson (1,331) and Jennings (1,131). His .540 winning percentage as Tigers manager ranks only behind Steve O'Neill (.551 from 1943-48) among managers with at least 500 wins.
Leyland's 1,769 wins overall rank 15th all time among Major League managers. His eight playoff appearances tie him for seventh on the all-time list, a group that includes La Russa, Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and Hall of Famers Casey Stengel, John McGraw, Joe McCarthy and Connie Mack.