Leyland's career comes full circle
DETROIT — Jim Leyland's career got a jolt when the franchise that gave him his start offered him another shot.
The Detroit Tigers put Leyland back in the dugout six years ago after employing him as a light-hitting catcher in the minor leagues and a manager in their farm system.
“It's a great story that he's gone in a complete circle,” Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said. “Adding to him starting out as a player and manager within the organization, his family is an hour away from the ballpark and I think that helps him relate in this community.”
It has been a win-win reunion for the franchise and the Ohio native. The former Pirates manager led the Tigers to the World Series in 2006 — giving the franchise a chance to win its first title since 1984 — and helped them get back to the Fall Classic this year against San Francisco.
The old-school, 67-year-old manager can crack a joke one moment and turn crotchety the next.
“I'm old, but I'm not grumpy,” Leyland deadpanned before Game 3 of the World Series on Saturday.
Leyland always makes time for fans in a baseball-crazed town. Tigers third base coach Gene Lamont, a former Pirates manager who has known Leyland since 1966 when they were playing in the minors, recalled a night in which he and Leyland stopped in the Motor City for burgers.
“He was taking pictures between bites,” Lamont said. “And he loved it.”
Leyland has showed how much managing the Tigers has meant to him, getting choked up when Detroit won the American League pennant this month in what was just his latest display of emotion during his seven-season tenure.
If he can help Detroit rally to win his second World Series — his first was with the Florida Marlins — the tears likely will flow again. Then Leyland probably will try to do it all over again.
Dombrowski has made it clear that Leyland will get a new contract when his expires following the World Series, and next year's team has an opportunity to be just as good as this one.
Leyland got a one-year deal during the 2011 season that extended his stay through this season. He may ask for another one-year deal after learning a humbling lesson during the 1999 season with the Colorado Rockies. He resigned following one season in Colorado, with $4 million and two years left on his contract, after losing 90 games and a desire to work 12-plus hours a day.
Leyland could have called it a career, and it would have been an impressive one even at that point. He managed the Pirates to three straight division titles from 1990-92 and helped the Marlins win it all in 1997. But he couldn't resist when Dombrowski — his boss in Florida — called.
The Tigers wanted him to replace Alan Trammell, who played for former Tigers manager Sparky Anderson, who chose not to promote Leyland to his coaching staff in 1979.
Leyland left the organization for a few years to become the third base coach for the Chicago White Sox and work for one of his best friends, Tony La Russa. He got his first shot to manage in the majors in 1986 in Pittsburgh, where he still has a home with his wife.