Sunday, October 23, 2005

Leyland Has The Goods, And Tigers Players Better Buy Them

(the following column can also be viewed at, where a new column from yours truly appears each Sunday or Monday. They will also appear here for your reading pleasure. For archives of my columns there, go to and click on "Columnists")

It might be saying a bit much to note that Jim Leyland holds the very future of the Detroit Tigers franchise in his 64 year-old hands, but he does. The Tigers have tried just about everything in the last 12 years to muster a winning record, and Leyland is the last managerial type that hasn’t been taken for a test drive. Let’s just hope he isn’t an Edsel.

His resume would suggest he isn’t, however -- an Edsel, that is -- and it says here that the Tigers have finally found their man. Jim Leyland will bring pride, execution, and fundamentals back to the Olde English D -- whether the players care for it or not.

This is it, baby. The Tigers have tried nice (Alan Trammell), high-strung (Phil Garner), unknown (Luis Pujols), stoic (Larry Parrish) and vanilla (Buddy Bell), all since Sparky Anderson retired after the 1995 season. Not one of these men had the guile, the wiles, or the wherewithall to somehow coax, prod or navigate the Tigers to any record in which their wins outnumbered their losses. So it is still that Sparky -- retired for 10 years now, and counting -- remains the last man to guide the Tigers to a winning record. That was in 1993. Since then, my wife and I have had a daughter born prematurely, grow up, go to kindergarten, then grades one thru five, and now she begins her first year in middle school, as a sixth grader. She has managed to grow up and mature. The Tigers have done neither in 12 years.

Leyland has been to the promised land,
a change from recent Tigers managers

But that will change with Jim Leyland. Maybe not next season, but not long after that. In the list of former managers post-Sparky, did you notice something absent? Specifically, something big and shiny and gold?
Leyland has a World Series ring, and he got it working with Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski down in Florida, with the Marlins. So there’s the something new -- the last bullet in the holster, the final two bits: trying a manager who has actually reached the end of the baseball rainbow and found gold. Maybe the Tigers are just saving the best choice for last.

If nothing else, Leyland will bring order, discipline and respect back to the clubhouse, which under Trammell was about as harmonious as an elevator being shared by Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. There was nonsense that went on in the Tigers’ lockerroom that you wouldn’t believe, and after I found out about it, it was very clear that Trammell lacked the clubhouse presence his idol and mentor, Sparky Anderson, so keenly possessed. Some of what happened was childish and almost silly, but it was also disrespectful and chasm-building. But Jimmy Leyland will straighten that out, forthwith. He will operate with a hand sorely needed by this almost motley group.

I believe that part of what has ailed the Tigers over the last decade is that they haven’t had enough players who respect the game of baseball. I almost got the feeling a bunch of them were only playing the game because there’s a lot of money to be made in it. What other conclusion can you come to when throws are made to the wrong base, running the bases is a constant adventure, and batters treat a ball three count as if it was plague-infested? The Tigers, for too long, have played with an odiferous, careless approach that could not be corrected by the under-experienced, lesser managers who’ve led them since Sparky’s departure.

"Certain things aren’t optional."

Jim Leyland’s challenge, then, won’t be to sell himself to the fans, or the media, or his bosses. He’s got all the goods to make a successful run in Detroit -- if only he can get his own players to purchase them. You see, there has to be a change of paradigm so radical, so abrupt, that it's bound to cause some rattling around, like a car’s passengers after the driver slams on the brakes. And history says that some players may be tossed out an open window when Leyland puts on the brakes. After that needed jettisoning, the new manager can go about the business of putting together a group of players who want to play baseball with respect and care to detail. You know, the winning kind.

When Sparky Anderson managed here, one of the many stories told about how tight his ship was run involved clubhouse music. Seems Sparky had a rule about when it could be played, and when it couldn’t. Apparently on this occasion, there arose a rather loud "discussion" about the type of music to be played. Two players, specifically, were at the center of the debate. After a minute or so of this bickering, the story goes, Sparky appeared from his manager’s office and said, simply, "Enough!" And that was the end of the "discussion."

No such thing ever came close to occurring in the Tigers’ den under Alan Trammell.

Back in the early 90’s with the Pirates, Jim Leyland had a much-publicized row with Barry Bonds in spring training. It was captured on videotape -- with audio. Granted, this occurred well before Bonds turned into the Incredible Bulk, but he was nonetheless the team’s superstar, and once the nation saw how Leyland handled him, a watershed moment happened. There was no mistaking who the boss was in Pittsburgh. Funny how postseason appearances were the norm for the Pirates back then, huh?

So Alan Trammell is gone, at least from the Tigers’ dugout, and with him goes his mostly inexperienced coaching staff along with snuffed out hopes that somehow the 1984 Connection -- Trammell, Lance Parrish and Kirk Gibson -- was going to save baseball in Detroit. There is a new sheriff in town, and he brings with him loads of experience in his deputies, which includes two former managers: Gene Lamont and Lloyd McClendon.

"Certain things aren’t optional," Leyland said at his introductory press conference. "Being on time, playing the right way, being a good teammate. Those are no-brainers."

Yes, they are. But so have been the Tigers in recent years.

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