Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Leyland Again Leaves No Doubt That He's In Charge

Jim Leyland is displaying an authority and level of control that hasn't been seen by a man piloting the Tigers since a white haired, petite man named Sparky roamed the dugout from 1979 to 1995.

The latest example is Leyland's rapid and blunt response to former Tiger Dmitri Young's assertion that the team didn't "support" him enough last season as he went through one personal crisis after another. The Tigers released Young in September, robbing him of his opportunity to play in the postseason.

Ahh, but there's the rub. I just fell into a trap that Young, in a much more personal way, has also fallen into. For it's not that the Tigers robbed Dmitri Young. He did that just swell by himself, to himself.

"For Dmitri to say the Tigers didn't support him is totally out of line," Leyland told reporters in Lakeland, reading aloud to them Young's quoted concerns before launching into his diatribe.

The rest of Leyland's words, I'll leave out, because by now you've probably read them a dozen times. But the swiftness with which he responded, combined with his conviction, are part of why Jim Leyland cuts a path through the Tigers that is the widest since Sparky Anderson's during the '80s and half of the '90s.

Player A and player B get into an argument over the type of music to be played in the clubhouse after a game -- a win. It gets loud and distracting (the argument, not the music). Out steps Sparky, and says, according to the story, but one word.


Then he retreated back into his office.

The story is probably not apocryphal. I heard it over 20 years ago, with Sparky at his zenith in the Motor City. The source was credible -- one of the beat writers at the time.

To me, that story has captured, in a most succinct fashion, the authority and tightness of ship that Anderson displayed while Tigers manager. And looking at his successors, no one else comes close to that command.

Buddy Bell didn't have it, and neither did his replacement, Larry Parrish. Phil Garner might have been that guy, but he didn't last long enough. Luis Pujols? HA! And good guy Alan Trammell, bless his heart, didn't cut that path either.

But Jimmy Leyland does, and I'm convinced that he'll remain manager here for as long as he chooses. Then again, I once had trouble with the idea of Tram being fired, early in his managerial career. But the Packers fired Bart Starr as coach, so there you have it.

Leyland's tit after Young's tat, along with making sure everyone knew that it was his decision to release Young and nobody else's (whether true or not), is yet another example of why there shouldn't be any worries when it comes to wondering whether the Tigers will suffer from sort of post-2006 hangover.

The skipper has a firm hand on the wheel, and not for a long time have we been able to say that about any Tigers manager.

Over ten years, in fact.

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