Tigers lose a good one in Leyland
I cried. ?I didn’t know why but there I was screaming and shouting and jumping up and down with tears running down my face.
I remember thinking “Why am I crying?” and asking Granny, who was babysitting me at the time, why I was so tearful.
The Detroit Tigers winning the World Series in 1984 was a moment of true joy for me and one of my earliest childhood sports memories.
I ran around the house and outside in the front yard channeling my inner Kirk Gibson, mimicking what I had seen him do around the basepaths when he jacked a three-run homer off San Diego’s Goose Gossage in the bottom of the eighth of Game 5 to essentially win the series.
And as much as I loved Jack Morris, Lance Parrish, Gibson, Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker, one of my favorite people on the Tigers was manager Sparky Anderson.
I loved Sparky’s interviews. I loved his outlandish predictions on rookies every year. He once said Jim Walwander was going to be the next Mickey Mantle.
But what I loved most about Sparky was that he spoke truth. Sure he was the eternal optimist, but he also called it how he saw it. He could be maddening in his constant changes in his lineup, but the bottom line was he won more than he lost.
When he retired in 1995, I was devastated. Sparky was the only manager I had ever known for the Tigers and it started a string of five more managers in the next 10 years before Jim Leyland was hired.
On Monday, I was harkened back to the day Sparky retired. When “Skipper” announced his retirement from managing, I was saddened. In eight years, the man had taken my favorite sports team to the postseason four times and almost a fifth, losing in game 163 to the Twins in 2009.
While he wasn’t Sparky Anderson, (I won’t see another Sparky in my lifetime) he had many of the same character traits.
He also made some maddening lineup and pitching changes. Sometimes they looked foolish and other times you thought, ‘Wow that was brilliant.’
He was loyal like Sparky was to his players and he spoke truth. He didn’t pull punches with the media or his players.
But one of my favorite things I loved about Leyland was his emotion.
And as much Tom Hanks’ Jimmy Dugan can say there’s no crying in baseball, I beg to differ.
I loved how emotional Leyland would get when talking about winning the division, the support of the fans or making it to the World Series.
It came off as genuine. It came off like he cared. And why? Because he did. He put his heart and soul into this team and when he realized he was running out of fuel, he told his boss that he would be done after this season.
He shared that with his team Saturday night after getting eliminated in the American League Championship Series. And the respect his team had for him showed when the story didn’t leak at all until the Tigers called a press conference Monday.
The quote that keeps sticking with me from that event was Leyland apologizing.
“I’m very sorry that we didn’t get that done for you,” Leyland said in talking about getting a World Series championship.
What I don’t think some Tigers or Reds fans appreciate is how rare it is what their former managers did.
Baseball, unlike its other three major sports counterparts, doesn’t let nearly half the league into the postseason. Getting the playoffs actually means something and that’s why it hurts more when a team doesn’t finish with the title.
I had a buddy tell me after the news that managing is easy. You just play the percentages.
If managing were easy, more managers would be successful.
It’s so much more than the plug and play like the fantasy sports culture has trained our culture’s fan mindset to think.
Just ask Bobby Valentine or Ozzie Guillen or John Gibbons. All of them recently had very talented teams expected to challenge for the postseason and none of them reached those lofty goals. And Guillen has a World Series title under his belt.
Managing and coaching in today’s sports culture is vastly different than even 10 years ago.
It’s more than managing the game and who to put where and when to put in that substitution.
It’s managing the egos in the locker room and making sure all the chefs can work in the same kitchen.
It’s dealing with the player who’s going through a divorce and trying to him focused on the field for a few hours or listening to the player whose kid is in the ICU with an unknown illness.
It’s dealing with the media and the social media, where everyone is a critic and an expert in their own mind.
Today’s successful managers and coaches have be able do all that and Leyland did, even if he was grumpy at times when he did.
Every coach is going to make mistakes. Leyland sure did.
But he achieved a ton of success in a short amount of time and gave a city and its fans something to cheer for in the midst of economic turmoil.
The Tigers’ options at this point are less than inspiring. There’s not a home-run candidate like there was last year in Terry Francona. What’s remains is kind of like going to the dentist and the dentist telling you he’s going to pull a tooth. You get to pick which one.
Like some of the Reds’ fans who were thrilled to see Dusty Baker fired, a couple of my friends were happy to see Leyland retire.
I just shake my head.
Be careful what you wish for.
Because replacing Leyland will be the easy part.
Getting someone better?
Not so much.
Aaron Korte is a sports writer for The Advertiser-Tribune.