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Let’s get this out of the way.  No one is more bothered at not bringing a World Series title to Detroit than their departing manager.  Jim Leyland desperately wanted the city to have the trophy that owner Mike Ilitch covets.  He got close going to the World Series twice in his eight seasons but no cigar.

Or… cigarettes, as Leyland was so famous for. 

Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em Jim!

Saying at the Monday press conference that “it was time” and “the fuel was getting low and that’s the way it went,” Leyland stepped down as Tigers’ manager. 

He took over a club he loved in 2006.  GM Dave Dombrowski didn’t hesitate to give his buddy the keys to the on-field kingdom after a failed experiment with fan favorite Alan Trammell.  Tram had lost 300 games in three seasons including an American League record 119 losses in 2003. 

When Leyland took over in 2006, there was absolutely NO indication that Tiger team was World Series bound. 


Fresh off Trammell’s final campaign of 71-and-91 in 2005, with Jeremy Bonderman and Mike Maroth as their top winning pitchers (each had a respectable 14 victories) and Dmitri Young their home run “slugger” (he had 21), the Tigers were positioned for nothing. 

Certainly they had more pieces in place than when Dombrowski named Tram the skipper.  Pudge Rodriguez had been overpaid to be the catcher in ’05.  Placido Polanco and Carlos Guillen made a surprisingly good double play combo and each hit .320 or better.  Craig Monroe busted out with 20 homers to match Young as the only batters with more than 18.

Still… 20 games under .500 was no preview of coming attractions. 

Some forget that it was Joel Zumaya and not Justin Verlander that people were counting on for 2006 before spring training that first year under Leyland. 

Verlander was called up for two starts in ’05.  JV made his major league debut on the 4th of July; just before Comerica Park hosted the All-Star game. 

He couldn’t have been worse. 

jim-leyland-getty2In eleven innings he gave up 15 hits and nine runs in those two starts.  He looked shaky and nervous.  Zumaya meanwhile, was burning up the minor leagues at Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo.  He would combine for 26 starts, nine wins and a whopping 199 strikeouts in just 151 innings.  His ERA was a low 2.74.

Oh, Verlander was blazing in the minors as well and he got the call up and not Zumaya.  Little did we know that the plan was to push Zumaya to the bullpen.  By the end of 2005, JZ had pitched in 78 games— all but ONE as a starter.  77 starts and that lone relief appearance. 

Verlander AND “Zooms” were the Tigers’ dual aces of the future. 

I remember talking to Trammell after JV’s second and final outing before going back to Toledo in ’05.  He acknowledged that Justin “had a ways to go.”  Verlander confirmed Tram’s assessment. 

Tram told me privately that he thought Verlander would be an outstanding major league pitcher and really believed he would be up for good in 2006.  He thought the same for Zumaya. 

But make no mistake.  JV was AWFUL in those two starts in Trammell’s final year as manager. 

Spring training in Lakeland, Florida of ’06 brought Leyland and a handful of new talent including those aforementioned pitchers.  It was swift and immediate.  Verlander would go north as a starter while Zumaya would be a reliever.  Kenny Rogers was brought in from Texas and Todd Jones was brought back after five years away. 

It was ON for 2006. 

Nate Robertson remained in the rotation and went on to win 13 games.  Bonderman duplicated his 14 victories.  Rogers made Dombrowski look like a genius (which is what I called him in Jack Ebling’s book about the ’06 Tigers) by posting a 17-win season. 

Jones had a 40 save campaign in Florida before signing with the Tigers as a free agent.  In 2000, TJ had registered 42 saves with the Tigers prior to starting an odyssey that took him to Minnesota, Colorado, Boston, Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Miami from 2001 to 2005. 

There wasn’t much fanfare upon Jones’ return to Motown.

Six months later he would be heralded for his 37 save encore.  Add to that Verlander’s Rookie of the Year and 17-win slate to match Rogers and one of the biggest turnarounds in baseball history was complete. 

Zumaya went to the bullpen and added zap as a set up man to Jones.  Maroth was still around and contributed as did the likes of Zach Miner, Fernando Rodney, Jason Grilli, Jamie Walker and Wil Ledezma. 

Side note:  In 2011, while I was in Las Vegas, I was at media day for the Triple-A Las Vegas 51’s and Ledezma was on the roster.  He recognized me from Detroit and it was like old home week.  So, I asked him a trivia question.  Who was the winning pitcher when Magglio Ordonez hit the home run against Oakland to send the Tigers to the World Series against the Cardinals in 2006?  Ledezma thought about it for a while and finally said, “Me?”  People forget that because the Ordonez homer was the story. 

Ok, back to Leyland. 

With all those pitching pieces in place and those hitters, including Chris Shelton, Brandon Inge, Curtis Granderson, Marcus Thames and Sean Casey coming through in the clutch like crazy, it was an improbable spectacle. 

Pudge and the rest were winning games at an alarming rate. 

Fans started to pick up on it by mid-year.  A small crowd of 8-to-12 thousand people was not uncommon early on.  Heck, by 2006, it had been nine years since Sparky Anderson left and any thoughts of a Tiger resurgence seemed like a fantasy. 

As Yogi Berra used to say, “People were staying away in droves.”

Think about it.  1987 was the last time the Tigers had won a division.  1993 was the last time they had been a .500 club or better.  More than 20 years had gone by since Detroit had a viable, winning baseball team. 

One night in 2003?  I swear 800 people showed up to watch a game.  Well, it WAS drizzling. 

In any event, Dombrowski was feeling the heat and had to do something.  Hiring Leyland was the most logical thing he knew.  Together, they won a World Series with the Florida Marlins in 1997.  Dombrowski was criticized as “buying” a championship but in reality, he did great work putting that squad in place. 

With all those other moves made, the forces of the galaxy saw fit to end Tiger fans woes and years of misery. 

71-and-91… to 95-and-67.  It was a remarkable 24 game swing. 

Of course, they just missed out winning the AL Central by one game to the Twins.  Detroit went to the post-season as a wildcard.  Still, they dispatched of the mighty Yankees and then the A’s to appear in the fall classic for the first time since Sparky took ‘em and won in 1984. 

Leyland was a Sparky lover.  He loved everything about the Tigers’ organization.  He was signed by the Tigers as a catcher in 1963 marking this as the 50th anniversary of his Detroit attachment out of Perrysburg, Ohio.

From 1964 through 1970, Leyland was a catcher at various stops in the minors although he also played eight games at third base, one game at shortstop and even pitched twice for four total innings. 

He was a good and loyal scout. 

When it was clear he would never play past Double-A ball, Leyland turned to managing.  Then-president Jim Campbell gave Jim the gig leading Clinton of the Midwest League.  He made it up to Triple-A as manager in Evansville, Indiana where he spent three seasons before getting a call from his buddy Tony LaRussa in Chicago.

It was 1982 and Leyland became LaRussa’s third base coach.  It meant a big league paycheck for the first time in Leyland’s baseball career. 

Two years after helping the White Sox win the AL West, the Pittsburgh Pirates were looking to replace Chuck Tanner who had floundered in 1985, losing 104 games. 

They wasted no time in naming Leyland. 

He was 41 and began a run of eleven years in Western Pennsylvania that included three NL East titles.  The Pirates failed to get past the NLCS all three seasons; losing to the Reds and twice to the Braves. 

While in Pittsburgh, he had celebrated run-ins with star outfielder Barry Bonds.  One classic example is available on youtube for your perusal.  Cover your ears if you’re allergic to swear words. 

In 1997, he joined Dombrowski in Miami as manager of the Marlins where he won his lone World Series that first season.  After ownership decided to sell off most of the good talent, 1998 saw Florida dip to 108 losses.  It was one of the largest drops in MLB history.  He went from 92 wins… to 54.  Leyland was angry with owner Wayne Huizenga for the “fire sale” and booked on the final two years of his deal. 

Dombrowski MORE than understood.

From the tropics to the Rocky Mountains went Leyland.  He took his talents from South Beach to Denver borrowing that phrase from LeBron James. 

1999 was not a good one for the now-54 year old as the Colorado Rockies finished 72-and-90. 

It was obvious Leyland was burnt out. 

He left the Rockies to spend more time with his younger (by 16 years) wife Katie and their two young children.  Son Patrick is in the Tigers’ farm system as a catcher/first baseman.  Pat is struggling having hit just .195 between Lakeland and Connecticut. 

By the way, Patrick Leyland was born October 11, 1991— right between games two and three of the Pirates’ post season series with Atlanta. 

A playoff baby!

alg-jim-leyland-presser-jpgFor the next six years, Leyland spent time with the family and scouting in the Pittsburgh area for his buddy LaRussa’s St. Louis Cardinals.  By the end of 2005, he was getting the itch again to do more than scout.  By this time, Dombrowski was firmly entrenched as the Tigers’ president and GM.  Over the years, they had spoken about a possible reunion in some capacity down the line.

When Trammell made it easy for him to give the ex-shortstop a pink slip, Dombrowski turned to the man who had helped him get a ring in Florida. 

So, he gave a “ring” to the home in Pittsburgh.  That would be a phone ring of course. 

Leyland, at age 60, answered and hopped a plane to Metro Airport and on October 4, 2005 was named manager of the Tigers; just one day after Trammell’s release. 

He cried when he got the job… and he cried leaving it. 

Eight years at the helm brought exactly 700 regular season wins, four playoff efforts, two World Series’ appearances and three consecutive titles. 

He managed a Rookie of the Year and Cy Young winner in Verlander, MVP’s in Verlander and Miguel Cabrera, a Triple Crown season from Cabrera and batting titles by Cabrera (three of them) and Ordonez. 

What he COULDN’T do was manage a world champion for Mike Ilitch. 

“Jim’s tenure will be looked back on as one of the greatest eras in Tiger’s history,” said Dombrowski at the press conference.

Really?  Hmm.

A “great” era has to come with a championship.  If just getting to the playoffs was a big accomplishment then there would be parades for that.  As we all know, there are NO parades for falling short. 

Since the 1945 World Series, only two managers can lay claim to a championship.  Mayo Smith in 1968 and Sparky in ’84. 

That’s it.

Leyland did nice work in eight years, save for that last place finish in 2008.  It was the same year the Lions went 0-and-16.  Ilitch’s Red Wings were the bright spot, winning their most recent Stanley Cup in ’08. 

So, don’t get me wrong.  Four times in the ALCS in eight years is amazing compared to what things were like around these parts in baseball the past quarter century.  Even Anderson found no success after 1987. 

In those eight years, I found Leyland to be honest if not exactly a media entertainer.  They won’t be booking him anytime soon at Mark Ridley’s Comedy Castle in Royal Oak. 

And the press conference eating!  Nope, won’t miss that.

I know it was a necessary evil for him to do those nightly or daily press meetings and he never shied from them, I give him that.  He was almost always available.  I just couldn’t figure out why he had to eat his post game meal WHILE he was doing interviews.  It’s tough enough being in the manager’s office packed up against other sports journalists, television—print—and radio, without having to incur his sweat-socked feet and a plate of pork chops. 

Hey!  It used to be worse at old Tiger Stadium.  Sparky’s office was like a linen closet.  And it smelled bad.  That entire clubhouse was awful.  When Buddy Bell took the reigns from Anderson in 1996, he always commented to me about the work conditions for reporters. 

They were NOT good.  Thankfully, Comerica Park is a lot better but still… not ideal for the gig. 

One time I was in there with my little digital recorder (before we all started using apps on our phones to record sound) and Leyland was basically inaudible.  Frankly, I could not understand a word he was saying! 

I ended up not using the quotes. 

When you COULD understand what he was saying, he was thoughtful at times.  Most post-games he was short with answers and didn’t say a whole lot.  I sympathized with him because baseball questions on a daily basis for 162-plus games and six months can be a real drag. 

My favorite moment with Leyland was one where he never said anything.


It was after a victory and I went down the elevator to the Comerica “dungeon” and did the usual signing the reporter sheet before entering the clubhouse.  I was already late going in there but didn’t think about it. 

I could do the walk blindfolded since I’ve been making that journey from the day the place opened in 2000.  You go through the double doors, straight ahead past Jim Schmakel’s equipment room and the food area, take a left and then a right into the manager’s office. 

Since I was making sure my recorder was ready to go, I had my head down as I bounded with authority into Leyland’s room and made my way to his desk. 

It was then I looked up and realized… NO ONE was in there.

Except Leyland and Dombrowski. 

The reporters were already in the main part of the clubhouse to interview the players.  Leyland had been short with his comments and the thing was done.  I stopped and stood there.  They looked at me and started laughing.  Without saying anything, Leyland winked and I nodded and turned around and left. 

I can still hear them laughing. 

It’s probably the biggest smile I have ever seen on Leyland with the exception of this season’s champagne celebration when Torii Hunter picked up his manager and carried him into the room where the bubbly was being sprayed into the eyes of goggled ballplayers.  He did that little moon walk thing and all was right with the world. 

That is until Jose Veras gave up that heart-sinking grand slam to Shane Victorino of the Red Sox ending the Tigers’ hopes of a return trip to the World Series against the Cardinals. 

Leyland so badly wanted to avenge that sweep at the hands of the San Francisco Giants.  He didn’t want to end his Tiger tenure with a 1-and-8 record on baseball’s biggest stage. 

But, that’s what it is. 

Dombrowski says he learned of his skipper’s decision on September 7th.  I believe at various times since 2010, Leyland has thought about retiring again.  How ever it shook out, the general manager has had time to think about a successor. 

I have said on my radio show that Lloyd McClendon deserves another shot. 

Mac has been with Leyland since day one in late 2005.  He was bullpen coach first and then hitting coach.  Under his tutelage, Ordonez and Cabrera have won batting titles.  Prior to Magglio in 2007, no Tiger had won one since Norm Cash in 1961.

McClendon was manager in Pittsburgh for five seasons and while that team was terrible, Lloyd was praised for the job he did.  No question he deserves another change to lead a club.  He interviewed with the Marlins just last season and Seattle before that. 

There is some sentiment however, that only Tom Brookens would be considered from the current staff of coaches.  That includes Gene Lamont who has similar Tiger bloodlines to Leyland.  Not to mention the fact that Lamont was the runner up for the Boston job two years ago when an ill-fated Bobby Valentine got the nod. 

Why not Mac or Geno?

And what about Brookens? 

He managed up in Oneonta, New York in 2005 and ’06 before managing West Michigan to the Midwest League title in 2007.  Brookie was then promoted to Double-A Erie in 2008 prior to his selection by Leyland to return in a Tiger uniform in ’09.

Brookens was a first round draft pick of the Tigers in 1975 (4th overall) and played with them from 1979 through 1988.  He has the dubious distinction of not getting a hit in 19 plate appearances in Detroit’s two playoff performances; 1984 and ’87.

Doesn’t make him a bad guy!

His name comes up most when asking fans about their choice off the current staff. 

Kirk Gibson?  Forget it.  Gibby is not leaving Arizona any time soon and I believe there is enough damage left when he and Trammell were let go in 2005 to put the kibosh on any hero’s welcome back to his home state.  It’s still Dombrowski and Ilitch don’t forget; same two guys who let them skate eight years ago. 

Torey Lovullo is another name.

When he came up with the Tigers in 1988, Sparky heralded him as the “next Mickey Mantle” or some garbage and it stuck with Lovullo for the two seasons he was in Detroit batting a thrilling .167.

He has spent a lot of time managing in the minors in different organizations and is now John Farrell’s bench coach in Boston.  My problem with Lovullo is, why hasn’t anyone else hired him?  He has had plenty of interviews but still no takers.  That’s puzzling and troubling.

Dusty Baker, Don Mattingly, Manny Acta and other names surfaced the second Leyland said, adios.  Maybe the most intriguing is former Tigers’ catcher Brad Ausmus. 

What is it about catchers as managers? 

Yes, I know.  Catchers handle pitchers and usually have to have a degree of smarts.  Well, Ausmus has SMARTS.  The dude graduated from freakin’ Dartmouth.  He’s an Ivy League fellow. 

Ausmus had two tours of duty in the Motor City.  He was Bell’s first catcher in 1996 and came back from Houston in 1999 and the first year of Comerica in 2000.  In all, he played 18 years, finishing up with the Dodgers in 2010. 

As a manager, his resume has one entry.

Israeli National Team in the World Baseball Classic.

No offense to the Israeli national squad but… that’s not exactly the stuff legends are made of. 

The thinking is that maybe Ausmus is the next Mike Matheny.  The former Wolverine took over for LaRussa in St. Louis and has kept that ride going all the way to this year’s World Series.  Matheny was also a catcher with no managerial experience.  I know that Ausmus is intelligent, like Matheny, and it was a pleasure talking to him when he played here. 

The list of names can be endless.  

Let’s face it, even though Leyland left on his own accord and there may have been signs at age 68 (he turns 69 in December) that “his fuel was low,” it’s a surprise when anyone walks away when times are good.  The Tigers are a 95-win team that just went to a third straight ALCS with a lot of great pieces returning.  

Yes that includes YOU Prince Fielder even if you want to pretend that losing to Boston didn’t matter that much. 

Dombrowski has to be careful to not upset the old apple cart here.  Leyland ran a terrific clubhouse.  I’ve seen chaotic clubhouses, even in Detroit, and it doesn’t work and it’s no fun. 

The man who gets this job has to understand the situation and be willing to bend for it.  This is NOT the time for a guy who wants to change everything.

Yeah, say it with me.  If it AIN’T broke… DON’T fix it!

If it was up to me, I’d hire McClendon and let it roll.  I would keep the current staff in place— Lamont, Belliard, Jones, Brookens, et al.  Also, I am not afraid to say that it would be cool to have the first American-born black manager in Tigers’ history. 

For now, we say hasta lavista to James Richard Leyland.  I’ll miss the eating, the smoking, the grumbling, the questionable moves that ALL managers make and much of the rest.  It was a nice change of pace over the past eight years.  Even his emotion— which sometimes came to tears— will be missed.  So many guys just go for the paycheck and I truly believe Leyland wasn’t that kind of guy.  Oh, he liked the money to be sure but it wasn’t his main source of motivation. 

He was old school and now… school’s out.  School’s out for winter, Alice Cooper.  And I guess, no more “smoking in the boy’s room” either.  Man, those classic rock tunes work well!

Leyland and Dombrowski both claim that Jim will have some position with the team moving forward.  That’s good because say what you want, but nobody could have more love, respect or passion for a uniform than Leyland had for that old English “D.”

Number 10.  He wore it well.

See ya, Jim.  Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.