Being a baseball manager is a hell of a job. Not many other occupations in the world allow for more credit when things go well or so much blame when things go poorly.
The Detroit Tigers were eliminated from the 2013 MLB playoffs on Saturday night and the postmortems are well under way. No matter how good a team looks over the long haul, the immediate shortcomings are very front of mind. Where did it go wrong? Most folks don’t need to look any further than the manager.
As far as managers go, Jim Leyland was a good one. Or, more accurately, he was a successful one. Teams with Jim Leyland as their skipper won a whole lot of games over his 22 seasons (1769 wins in total). He claimed a World Series crown with the Florida Marlins in 1997.
But those 1769 wins are counterbalanced by 1728 losses. That lone World Series victory came amid countless playoff appearances (including six different division titles) and just two other pennants.
Leyland won the World Series with a great Marlins team, one of the best money could buy. He managed one of the greatest players of all time and steered a Tigers ship that might feature three consecutive Most Valuable Players and at least two different Cy Young winners in short order. Jim Leyland’s good teams don’t often lack great players.
Which is to say, no man does it alone. Leyland earned the respect of his players and fans who appreciate his willingness to wear his heart on his sleeve. Leyland supported his players and only did what he thought best.
There is a reason clubs bring in a guy like Leyland to manage their expensive outlay of talent. He thrived where other managers might wilt or fail to get the best out of the great players around him. Even the best among us stand on the shoulders of giants. There’s no shame in it.
Jim Leyland appears to leave the game on his own terms and with his head held high. Sniping at his tactical decisions or over-reliance on star players misses the point. The game will miss one of its true characters prowling the dugouts of the American League.