- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 15, 2006

DETROIT.

After his team put away the Oakland Athletics with a three-run home run by Magglio Ordonez in the ninth inning for a 6-3 win and a four-game sweep, Jim Leyland walked through the mob of people on the field at Comerica Park holding up a T-shirt with a message.

Detroit Tigers — American League Champions.

It should have had on it the following: produced by Jim Leyland, written by Jim Leyland, directed by Jim Leyland and starring Jim Leyland.

It was the Jim Leyland show. He put his fourth starter, Nate Robertson, out there to start the series against Oakland, and it paid off. He knew when to take out Justin Verlander and keep in Kenny Rogers. He started a career minor leaguer, Alexis Gomez, as the designated hitter, in Game 2 against Oakland and watched him drive in four runs, including a two-run homer, in the 8-5 win.

If you are buying lottery tickets, Leyland’s birthday is 12/15/44.

A little more than a year ago, Leyland was hired in Detroit, a city that had just suffered through watching one of its icons, Alan Trammell, manage its team to three dismal losing seasons and a 186-300 record over that period, including 71-91 last year.

Leyland didn’t come to Detroit to lose, though. He had plenty of that in his last job in Colorado in 1999, when the Rockies went 72-90, and it ate Leyland up so bad he walked away from a multiyear contract because the losing almost killed him.

Not the picture of health, Leyland, who spent the last few years on Tony La Russa’s staff in St. Louis, couldn’t live through that again. But he also couldn’t live with the way he left the dugout in Colorado.

“I did a lousy job my last year of managing,” Leyland said when he was hired in Detroit. “I stunk because I was burned out. When I left there, I sincerely believed that I would not manage again. But I always missed the competition, and the last couple of years, it stuck in my craw a little bit. I did not want my managerial career to end like that.”

It won’t. Leyland proved he is anything but burned out. He took a young Tigers squad and directed it to a 95-67 record. Despite a terrible finish — the Tigers went 25-32 in the final two months of the season and settled for the wild card after leading the AL Central for every day of the season until the last one — his team won three straight after losing the Division Series opener against the Yankees. Detroit followed that with four straight wins in the AL Championship Series over the Athletics.

“I think early on in spring training, we had a lot of good players,” Leyland said during the celebration yesterday at Comerica Park. “We didn’t have a good team. And today I can make the statement that we’ve got a good team, and that’s the thing I’m proudest of.”

Here is a remarkable measure of how great a manager Leyland is. He is considered one of the best managers of his generation, yet after 15 years of managing, starting with the Pirates in 1986, he has a career losing record. That’s right, even with this year’s 95 victories, Leyland has a record of 1,164 victories and 1,198 losses, a .493 winning percentage. Yet any team in its right mind would jump at the chance for him to be its manager.

The Phillies weren’t jumping two years ago when they interviewed Leyland and instead hired Charlie Manuel. That burned inside Leyland like a thousand packs of Marlboro. Other teams passed on him as well — including the Pirates, to whom Leyland wanted to return. But the Pirates instead pursued former Dodgers manager Jim Tracy. Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski, who worked with Leyland in Florida, jumped at the chance to bring Leyland to Detroit.

Ironically, in an Associated Press interview just days ago, former Pirates managing great Chuck Tanner had this to say about Leyland: “To me, he’s the manager of the year — in both leagues — and the MVP. How can he be the MVP? He doesn’t hit or field, but he’s the one putting it together, the one making the guys do it. He’s the best there is.”

Leyland was a two-time manager of the year in Pittsburgh, where his teams won three division titles from 1990 to 1992. He guided the Florida Marlins to the 1997 World Series championship. And now he is on the verge of doing something only one other manager in baseball history has done — win a World Series championship in both leagues.

The only other manager to do that did so in this town 22 years ago — Sparky Anderson. The best there is.

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