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Leyland content in new role with Tigers, rules out a return to Pirates

| Tuesday, March 4, 2014, 9:39 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Detroit Tigers special assistant Jim Leyland talks with Pirates manager Clint Hurdle before a game Tuesday, March 4, 2014, at Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Detroit Tigers special assistant Jim Leyland hugs Pirates manager Clint Hurdle before a game Tuesday, March 4, 2014, at Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Tigers special assistant Jim Leyland sits in the Detroit dugout before a game Tuesday, March 4, 2014, at Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Detroit Tigers special assistant Jim Leyland stands on the field before a game against the Pirates on Tuesday, March 4, 2014, at Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Detroit Tigers special assistant Jim Leyland talks with Pirates manager Clint Hurdle before a game Tuesday, March 4, 2014, at Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Tigers special assistant Jim Leyland shares a laugh with Pirates manager Clint Hurdle before a game Tuesday, March 4, 2014, at Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Fla.

LAKELAND, Fla. — Jim Leyland retired as the Detroit Tigers manager after the 2013 season, but he did not walk away from baseball.

The Tigers kept Leyland on as a special assistant to general manager Dave Dombrowski. He also is working for the commissioner's office as a consultant on the expanded instant replay system.

Leyland, 69, wants to remain connected to the game for a few more years. But even though he still lives in Pittsburgh, Leyland has no plans to ever rejoin the Pirates.

“I really don't want to come back to the organization,” Leyland said Tuesday. “Not because I don't love it, but (because) they've set their tempo now and they have their own people in place. They don't need somebody like me hanging around and, really, I don't need to do that. I signed with the Tigers, and I was here (27) years. I'll retire a Tiger.”

The Pirates once brought back popular ex-manager Chuck Tanner as a special assistant. Former players such as Bill Mazeroski and Kent Tekulve lend a hand during spring training. There are some people in the front office who privately say they'd like to see Leyland return, too. But don't count on it happening.

“I look at it realistically,” Leyland said. “They've got their thing in motion, the way they want to do it and it's been pretty successful for them recently. ... We'll see how it plays out, but no, I don't plan on returning to that organization.”

The Pirates lost 104 games in 1985, the year before they hired Leyland as manager. He led them to NL East titles in 1990, '91 and '92, but each year they fell short of reaching the World Series. The team's best players bolted and Leyland, disgusted by ownership's low-budget approach, quit after the 1996 season.

Leyland managed the Florida Marlins in 1997-98 — they won the World Series in his first year — and the Colorado Rockies in 1999. He then worked as a scout until the Tigers hired him before the 2006 season. Detroit went to the playoffs in four of his eight seasons at the helm.

“As the (2013) season went on, it started to wear on me,” Leyland said. “The fun part was managing the games. It was kind of easy for me to stay motivated because I knew we were going to be playing for something. I knew we had a shot. But I could see the trips were getting a little longer and things like that. It was time. I knew it.”

In his new role, Leyland helps assess the Tigers' minor leaguers and may give input on potential trades and other roster moves. He waited until two weeks after the start of spring training to come to Tigers camp, so he wouldn't interfere with new skipper Brad Ausmus.

“I wanted him to have the freedom to establish himself with the team and everything,” Leyland said. “I stay out of the way.”

During the season, Leyland will help MLB special assistant Tony LaRussa evaluate instant replay. Leyland supports the expanded system, which he knows might come as a surprise to some folks.

“Everybody calls me ‘old school' and that's really a pet peeve of mine,” Leyland said. “I'm not old school. If old school is doing things right, then I'm old school. A lot of people think I'm not into the modern statistical stuff. I am, totally. If somebody's got a statistic or some process that will help me win a game, I want that information.”

However, Leyland is old-fashioned enough not to embrace all of the sabermetic tools that are popular with some fans and front office wonks.

“I don't believe in some of it, because some of it's ridiculous,” Leyland said. “If you've got some (player) over here with a WAR or something who rates higher than Miguel Cabrera ...”

Leyland frowned and shook his head.

Leyland trusts his gut instincts, and the Tigers trust Leyland. Wednesday, while the big league club is playing in Kissimmee, Fla., Leyland will stay behind at Tiger Town and watch a team of prospects scrimmage against Western Michigan University.

“I'm not totally ready to retire yet,” Leyland said.

Yet, there is more room in Leyland's life these days for non-baseball things. He plays golf more often. In January, he and his wife vacationed in Siesta Key, not far from the Pirates' spring training facility.

“The nice thing is, at the end of spring training I'm going home this year,” Leyland said. “I'm not going away for five or six more months. It's going to be a little bit different — and I'm going to enjoy it.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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