Sunday, February 22, 2009

Leyland Anything But Lame, No Matter What You Read

The next person to call Walter Alston a lame duck will be the first. And the last, for Walt’s ghost won’t have any of that nonsense.

Alston was the longtime manager of the first Brooklyn, then Los Angeles Dodgers, from 1954 to 1976. For twenty-three seasons, Alston ruled the roost, wearing Dodger Blue. He won 2,040 games filling out lineup cards and signaling for the hit-and-run and summoning that guy from the bullpen. But it’s the calling card of the length of the baseball season that Alston also managed to lose 1,613 games – proof that the lineup and the hit-and-run and that guy in the bullpen didn’t always work the way Walt thought.

But he was no lame duck.

Here’s how Alston’s arrangement with the Dodgers went. He’d manage the season. Sometimes the Dodgers went to the World Series, sometimes they didn’t. Regardless, Alston put in his year’s work and then waited for his contract for the next season to arrive in his mailbox, sometime that winter. He’d sign it and mail it back, then presumably head back for the golf course, or the nearest billiards hall.

That was it. For twenty-three straight years.

But he was no lame duck.

You’re going to hear that terribly misplaced and overused term, “lame duck”, in reference to Tigers manager Jim Leyland. A lot. Some of the ink-stained wretches in town just can’t seem to use it enough to suit them.

Jim Leyland, lame duck. Get used to it.

It’s also a bunch of baloney.

Apparently, you can’t have a coach or a manager who’s not signed beyond the current season without also having a lame duck coach or manager. That’s what those miscreant ink-stained wretches would have you believe.

They’ll tell you – over and over, trust me – that Leyland is the dreaded lame duck because the Tigers have the audacity to send him off to battle without a contract beyond the 2009 season.

Lame duck!!

Their “reasoning” goes like this. Since the Tigers players know that the manager has no pact for 2010 and beyond, then he is, in a baseball sort of way, a eunuch. Emasculated, because his arrangement to manage potentially ends with the final pitch of the ’09 campaign. In other words, why should the players listen to and respect and obey a man who isn’t signed long-term?

My goodness, are the Tigers that fragile?

If they lose a few, are they really going to look at Leyland, twirl their mustaches, and “Muwah-ha-ha” in some sort of group effort to undermine him?

Funny, but no one did that to Alston – he of the twenty-three straight one-year contracts.

It should be added here that it was Alston, not the Dodgers, who insisted on the year-by-year thing. His logic? If I don’t do a good job, then I shouldn’t be asked back. If I do a good job, there’ll be another contract for me in my mailbox this winter.

And you would argue with that?

The ink-stained wretches screaming “lame duck!” sure would seem to find issue with such impenetrable reasoning.

Leyland, within the past month, summoned Alston’s words.

“If I do a good job, I’ll keep my job,” he said. “If I don’t, I won’t. Simple as that.”


But it was Leyland himself who needed to come around before channeling Alston.

Shortly after the dreadful 2008 season had mercifully ended – the Tigers a hugely disappointing 74-88 – it was revealed that the front office wasn’t going to extend Leyland’s contract beyond its current length, which was through 2009.

The manager whined and pouted about it.

Leyland went to the papers and told the ink-stained wretches all they needed in order to place the “lame duck” tag on him. He publicly, and foolishly, I believed, called out owner Mike Ilitch, complaining that he – Leyland – had done enough since becoming Tigers manager to warrant some faith and trust. Jim Leyland wanted to be signed past 2009 – but putting his owner on the spot in the newspapers was a funny way of showing it, I thought.

Leyland, it says here, will be ranting on the Tigers’ behalf next year and beyond

Besides, Leyland didn’t earn a look past 2009. Other managers have found themselves in the unemployment line after presiding over the unexpected diarrhea that was the Tigers’ 2008 season. I wrote that Jimmy Leyland should, instead, have thanked his lucky stars that he still had a job, much less crab that his contract was too short.

The ink-stained wretches took another tack.

They endorsed an extension for Leyland – sort of. They went for the “pee or get off the pot” approach: if you want Leyland, sign him past 2009. If you don’t, fire him – forthwith.


I went on the Internet and told anyone who cared to know, all about Walter Alston and his twenty-three consecutive one-year contracts. I pointed to the Dodgers’ record from 1954 to 1976 and safely argued, I thought, that the franchise had enjoyed a pretty darn good run with Alston receiving contracts in his mailbox each winter.

If it was good enough for a Hall of Fame manager like Walt Alston, then it should be good enough for Jim Leyland. Right? Wrong, according to the Chicken Little sportswriters in town.

Lame duck!!

I was disappointed in Leyland, when he fed into this horsepucky with his public boo-hoo act last fall. I thought he was better than that.

But he seems to have gotten it out of his system.

Leyland won’t talk about his contract anymore, except to say that he’s confident that it will all work out in the end. And he’s absolutely right.

The Tigers, I say, will prove that 2008 was nothing more than a bad dream. With players dotting the roster who are destined to have better years, whether because of good health or otherwise, it’s hard for me to believe that the team won’t be vastly improved.

Which means Jim Leyland will get his precious extension, after all. Probably before the season is much more than halfway old. And no more lame duck talk.

Not that he was one to begin with.

Right, Walt?

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