I think Detroit Tiger’s manager Jim Leyland is smarter than a lot fans give him credit for. It’s easy to see this older man eating food during postgame interviews as a senile, bumbling, Marlboro-toting, old fool. Why not? But, for a man that has managed 3,319 games and began his career in Detroit almost 50 years ago, I think there is more to him than meets the eye. Here is a man that has garnered several Manager of the Year awards, in both the National and American Leagues. He has won Divisional, League, and World Series Titles. He has studied under the tutelage of the great Tony LaRussa. He is a man that has played, knows, lived, and breathed baseball.
Let me be clear. I do not think he is the greatest manager ever. I wouldn’t even call myself a Jim Leyland ‘fan’. As a matter of fact, I’m cut from the same cloth as others that believe managers, hitting coaches, etc don’t play all that much into a teams final season record. Though, having said that, there have been many a time I have been left scratching my head in amazement over his lineup choices, bullpen decisions, and frankly, just some of the comments and statements that have come out of his mouth. But, make no mistake- he’s no fool. He knows what he is doing.
I have a different take on how the Tiger’s 2012 season has gone. I believe Jim Leyland, in his sage baseball wisdom, saw the writing on the wall. In a 2011 season that saw virtually an entire roster have career years, included among those slugger Miguel Cabrera, Leyland knew regression was in order and that water had to find it’s level. The 2012 Tigers had seen their names at the top of several news media’s power rankings and the fans were led to believe this was the the year to go all the way. So much so, that owner Mike Illitch went into his own pockets to bring Prince Fielder to Detroit. General Dave Dombrowski virtually threw the farm at the Florida Marlins in order to acquire starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez as a rental and second baseman Omar Infante to fill considerable voids in the Tiger’s roster. Everyone bought into the hype and was duped. Everyone, but Jim Leyland.
I think Jim Leyland continuously trotted out Ryan Raburn (not Rayburn) and Brennan Boesch praying he could jumpstart them. He was hoping for a miracle in finding someone other than Cabrera and Fielder to carry this Tiger’s offense. Sophomore slumps, regression, down years- whatever you want to call it- were en route. He knew they were coming, but he was looking for a spark. He was looking for someone who could stoke the fires of the Detroit offense. How did he know they were coming? He had seen it before. So much so, he had even had management fire sell teams from underneath him after acquiring a divisional title with the Pittsburgh Pirates and a World Series title with the Florida Marlins. Simply put, he was waiting in anticipation and expectation for it to occur.
Jim Leyland is the same skipper that managed the 2011 Tigers to 95 wins, included of which a 12- game winning streak in the month of September. In that streak, he featured a different lineup in all 12 games. Oh yes, he switched the lineup then, just as he switched them up now. Shocking isn’t it? Leyland has expectedly drawn a lot of hate, as he should, team managers are usually the scapegoats. But, if you hadn’t seen the video (view it here) of Miguel Cabrera stealing the fan’s sign that read “Fire Leyland”, than that should be evidence enough that the players got his back- and don’t blame him.
I think what needs to change in Detroit is not the manager or his methods, but the fan. The fan needs to understand that a team doesn’t perform to their expectations every season. The fan needs to also understand that hindsight is 20-20, and that suprise! They don’t know it all.