Tuesday, October 11, 2005

With One Hire, Leyland Cemented His Solid Baseball Reputation

Jim Leyland was on the job for all of one day, and already he was light years ahead of the Detroit baseball game, as far as I am concerned.

Leyland, the Tigers new manager, in one stroke made a move that should have produced a collective "AMEN!" from fans who have been watching this team play with one eye closed: he hired Andy Van Slyke.
Van Slyke, the former brilliant centerfielder for the Pirates and Cardinals, was hired by Leyland to tutor the Tigers’ outfielders -- specifically centerfielder Curtis Granderson. The best part is, even though Van Slyke was obviously gifted, the word is he is also a student of the game and should slip into his new coaching cloak just fine, thank you. For if anyone can use some help navigating around Comerica Park’s spacious centerfield, it’s Granderson and Nook Logan and anyone else who shows up to give it a shot.

The reason I’m so hyped up about Van Slyke’s hiring is that for years -- the last few seasons at Tiger Stadium and the first six in CoPa -- the Tigers have complained about the vastness of each ballpark’s centerfield, complained about being weak "up the middle," yet they never brought in a guy with Van Slyke’s credentials to set the dudes they had straight. Then, in less than 24 hours, Leyland -- who professed to know very little about the Tigers -- identified a sore need and addressed it.

In fact, Leyland’s staff is impressive on the surface. He’ll be joined by two former managers: third base coach and bench coach Gene Lamont and bullpen coach Lloyd McClendon. Don Slaught will be the hitting instructor, and Rafael Belliard the infield coach. Word is that Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild is the frontrunner for the same job in Detroit. All are steeped in big league coaching experience, something which Alan Trammell was desperately in need of when he roamed the Tigers dugout.

But I can’t help but returning to Van Slyke when it comes to talking about the staff. He is also intriguing because he was the only member of the new staff that was a possibility of turning any offered job down. But Leyland was able to convince Andy to downplay any concerns he had and he managed to get him to Detroit. And the Tigers’ young outfielders will be far better off for it.

Oh, how the Tigers need someone like Van Slyke to teach them about outfielding! How wonderful it is to have, at their disposal daily, Van Slyke’s knowledge and feel for the game. And, frankly, isn’t nice to look in the dugout and know the coaching staff isn’t populated with neophytes?

Jimmy Leyland, for someone who told us you didn’t know much about the Tigers, you sure as heck picked up mighty quickly.

1 comment:

Ian C. said...

Greg, I'm so glad you wrote about this! I loved the hiring of Van Slyke. He was one of my favorite players when he was with the Pirates, not just for his play, but he was always good for a memorable quote. (And I hope he'll be as quotable as a coach.)