Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Jim Leyland: AL Manager Of The Year

Hockey calls it the Jack Adams Trophy. But they're the league that has a fetish for naming their awards and trophies after hockey people -- and sometimes non-hockey folks. Lady Byng, for example, never skated one shift in the NHL.

The rest of the four major team sports keep it simple, stupid: Coach of the Year. Correction -- in baseball it's Manager of the Year.

Each league likes to present these awards to commanders who've taken over a rickety plane and have managed to fly it straight, if even for just one season.

Wayne Fontes was a one-hit wonder. He took a pedestrian Lions team that finished 6-10 in 1990 and used emotions and some pixie dust to coax it into a 12-4 record and a trip to the Conference Championship. He won Coach of the Year honors, even though the voters must have known that the 6-10 1990 team was also coached by Wayne Fontes. Regardless, the Lions free-falled in 1992, dropping to 5-11. If there was an UN-Coach of the Year award for '92, Fontes would have won that, too.

Jacques Demers arrived in Detroit in the summer of 1986 with this charge: take a 17-57-6 team that gave up over 400 goals and make it at least in the neighborhood of respectable. He did more than that -- he also led his team to the finals of its conference. For that he won the -- ahem -- Jack Adams Trophy. The Red Wings made it to the league's Final Four the next season, too -- with their injured captain Steve Yzerman missing the season's final month due to a serious knee injury. Voters thought that Demers' coaching was still solid, and so bestowed upon him a second straight Adams Trophy.

It's almost unheard of for the Coach (or Manager, or Jack Adams) of the Year Award to go to a coach who takes over a winner and keeps it winning. Pfft -- anyone can do THAT, the voters reason. Show us someone who's making chicken salad out of chicken feathers. It's the main reason why Chuck Daly never won the award whilst coaching the Pistons -- even though there were years when nobody could outcoach him. But there you are.

Jimmy Leyland has won Manager of the Year -- twice, in fact. Once in 1990, after leading the Pirates to a 21-game improvement, and again in 1992, after coming off a division-winning season. He bucked the odds on that occasion.

Your 2006 AL Manager of the Year

The Tigers have been chicken feathers for well over a decade. Some would say they have been more like the feces of a horse, but you get the idea.

Today, the Tigers sit at 53-25, the best record in all of baseball. This in a town where the 53rd win usually comes sometime in September. If at all.

He won't ever agree with the assertion, but there is no way the Tigers have the glittering record they now possess if Jim Leyland does not occupy the manager's office.

He's leading a team that's starting to make a town go daffy over its baseball again, and he does it with daring, unconventional means, and a constant challenge to his players. There is no question, from player 1 to 25, who bosses the team.

Leyland, in my completely unbiased mind, is this year's hands-down winner of his third Manager of the Year Award. You might as well give it to him right now, as far as I'm concerned.

Managers don't pitch. They don't field. They don't hit. So how can they influence a team's success, or failure?

There are maybe six inches between the ears of the average big league baseball player's skull. They say baseball is a game of inches, and never is it more true than in this example. Because it's the manager who can infilitrate those six inches of cranium and take up residence, coating the player's mind with mantras of how to play, how to win, how to lose.

Some can do it better than others, let's face it.

None of the men who've succeeded Sparky Anderson as Tigers manager -- and we're in the 11th season of no Sparky -- have been able to commandeer their players' brain matter like Jim Leyland is doing this season.

Of course, some players' brains aren't the problem. It's their ballplaying skills. So sometimes it doesn't matter how much you control their psyche; if they can't play, they can't play. Leyland knows this perhaps as much as anyone who's ever managed.

In 1997, Leyland's Florida Marlins won the World Series, thanks to a run in the bottom of the ninth of the seventh game. He had some players who could play. And the players had a manager who could manage. They also had a GM who knew how to get the right personnel. His name was Dave Dombrowski.

But in 1998, his owner having sold off his star players in the world's most expensive fire sale, Leyland was forced to manage big league impostors. The result was a 54-108 record, 12 months after winning the whole enchilada. The manager had players who couldn't play. And the fact that the players had a manager who could still manage meant nothing.

There is a line about a hotshot rookie that has made the rounds in sports.

"If he doesn't win Rookie of the Year this season," his coach supposedly said, "then he'll never win it."

Jim Leyland isn't limited to one shot at winning Manager of the Year. His duplicity in the early-1990's is proof of that. But his chance of winning one in the American League, with the Tigers, may not be as great as in 2006. Because next year he won't be managing a team that's coming off a season in which they were horse...feathers.

My vote is cast. My unbiased vote.


Ozz said...

Looking at the pic of Leyland at his press conference that you posted with this blog reminded me of the 'uh oh' that I uttered when I listened to the audio of that press conference and heard him say he didn't know much about the Tigers or the AL.

Maybe not knowing anything about the players he inherited was a good thing. There were at least a few guys I didn't have any confidence in and had seen enough of, like Maroth, Inge, Monroe, Walker and Robertson to name a few. That's why I won't be named "Manager Of The Year".

At least Jim didn't come into this with any preconceived notions about what guys could or couldn't do based on a couple subpar seasons.

Ozz said...

Here's a quote from an article at from June 17th after the Tigers beat the Astros 10-4.

"The thing I like about what's going on," Leyland said, "is when I got here, I wouldn't tolerate stuff like not playing hard. But here's the best part -- now the players won't tolerate somebody not playing hard. That's the key. It's not me anymore. I'm out of the picture. This is about the players. They won't tolerate someone not playing hard."

To me, that speaks volumes about the job Leyland has done. He's instilled in them a winner's frame of mind, a 'never say die' attitude and a confidence that wasn't there before this season.

Greg Eno said...

Ignorance can indeed be bliss, Ozz.

And that quote you lifted is a wonderful bi-product of Leyland's madness.

Big Al said...

Eno, Never, ever dis Wayne-0, he's the bestest coach evah! ;)

You're correct, Leyland locked up the award long ago. Unfortunately, Leyland for MOTY is probably the only post season award any Tiger personnel has a legit shot at winning.

dolphinfan said...

Leyland is hands down the AL Manager of the year.