For 13 of Jim Leyland‘s 22 years as a Major League manager, he had the best seat in the house. His career has been book ended by watching two hitters, Barry Bonds and Miguel Cabrera, who both worked their magic with ash and maple respectively.
The first seven seasons Leyland had a front row view for the beginning of Barry Bonds’ career. Nevermind the talk of steroids, the cream and the clear, BALCO, and asterisks, Bonds was one of the best pure hitters of the modern era. The last six seasons Leyland managed Miguel Cabrera, one of the finest right handed hitters of this era, and debates are beginning to emerge concerning where he belongs on the all time list. Cabrera has never had the foot speed which Bonds had in his early years, thus his career .321 BA is all the more impressive as he is not going to leg out many infield hits. While having this sort of talent definitely does not hurt, Leyland was a master of knowing when to pat a player on the back and when to kick him in the pants.
A three time Manager of the Year, twice in the NL and once in the AL, Leyland was a competitor who expected the best out of his players, and would not stand for his players being made targets in the media for errors or mistakes. As he said in his press conference when he resigned as the Tigers manager, “the team just came up short, no single player was to blame, they just came up short as a team.”
Leyland finished his career with 1769 wins, good for 15th all time. This is even more impressive when you remember he took over as manager of the Pirates a year after they lost over 100 games and the 1998 Florida Marlins after their fire sale following the 1997 World Series. Leyland is one of the final members of the old guard. Managers like Lou Piniella, Bobby Cox, Tommy Lasorda, and Joe Torre are becoming extremely rare. He was never seeking headlines for himself, his mission everyday was to make his team better and win. He did not care if you were Barry Bonds or Jay Sborz, he expected your best every time out on the field. Jim Leyland gets to go out on his own terms, which is how it should be, and I would not be completely surprised to find him in Cooperstown some day.