Wednesday, October 11, 2006

24: Not Just A TV Show; Also Jim Leyland's Worth

Back in April, for the cover of Motor City Sports Magazine, we selected a photo of Jim Leyland for our cover with the inquisitive headline, "How many wins is this man worth?" Most of our staff figured the Tigers for anywhere between 80 and 85 wins in 2006.

Nobody picked 95, a 24-game improvement over 2005.

But then again, neither did anyone else in the country, the world, or the universe. I hear those Pluto folks like their baseball, but that hasn't been confirmed.

From the moment I saw Jim Leyland speak as the team's winter caravan saddled up its buses, I knew we were in for something, though I didn't really know what it was. He spoke with a sense of urgency befitting a 61 year-old man who knows he doesn't have all that much time to deliver a winner.

"Everyone's out of patience here. The fans aren't patient. Mr. Ilitch isn't patient. And I'm not patient," Leyland said that January day. "We have to turn this around, and we have to turn it around quickly."

Mission accomplished.

When Billy Martin took over the Tigers for the 1971 season, legend has it that he gathered his players around him in Lakeland, Fla. and said, "I'm Billy Martin. I'm your new manager. And I'm a very bad loser."

Of course, despite some success, including the 1972 AL East flag, Martin's players soon grew weary of him. He wasn't well-liked, and when he was fired in August, 1973 after less than three seasons on the job, there weren't exactly any wakes held on his behalf.

Leyland, though, could probably stay in Motown for as long as he wants. He's the Pied Piper of Detroit when it comes to baseball. His players will follow him anywhere. And they'll play hard for him, too.

"I didn't think this would happen this soon," Leyland admitted amongst the revelry of the Tigers' stunning almost-sweep of the Yankees in the ALDS. So the Tigers made it happen even quicker than the skipper thought, and the skipper wanted it done quickly to begin with. Those fast track Tigers.

I get it asked of me frequently: Would the Tigers have had this kind of success if Alan Trammell had remained the manager? After all, they say to me, Tram didn't have a lot of the pieces that Leyland has at his disposal.

Very true. But Trammell himself also doesn't have a lot of the pieces that Leyland possesses -- the ones that don't involve player personnel. They are intangibles that come with managing over 3,000 big league games, including many in the playoffs and World Series. The ability to keep the other team's manager on the defensive more often than not. The way he relates to his players. The complete trust they have vested in him. If you don't think those things matter, than yes, Trammell should still be the manager here. But there's no way the Tigers win 95 games if he's here instead of Jim Leyland.

There was urgency in Leyland's tone when the streets of Detroit were still slick with ice and a dusting of snow. Now the thaw is here, and you can point squarely at the manager's Marlboro-coated roar for providing it.

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