Back in February, the MLB Network premiered “Jim Leyland: A Life in Baseball”. It tracked the career of the former Tigers skipper through his 22 years managing the game of baseball. It’s a career that managed players like Barry BondsGary Sheffield,  Justin Verlander, and Miguel Cabrera. Gathering interviews from different colleagues and former players, the special hit a home run documenting the life in baseball of one of the better managers Detroit has ever seen.

Life before Detroit-

The title is a bit misleading because Jim Leyland‘s baseball career first started when he signed with the Detroit Tigers in 1963. But after spending 7 seasons in the Minor Leagues, never cracking AAA, he left and began his coaching career. His managerial career began in 1986 for the struggling Pittsburgh Pirates. After a heartbreaking loss to the Atlanta Braves in 1992, he spent four more seasons in Pittsburgh before leaving to manage the Florida Marlins. In his first season, he reached the pinnacle of the sport winning the 1997 World Series in Game 7 against the Cleveland Indians. The year after the team as dismantled due to financials reasons, and then became the manager of the Colorado Rockies in 1999, managing them for only one year.

From 1986-1999, Leyland managed three teams, accumulated 1,069 wins to 1,131 wins, won 2 Managers of the Year (1990 & 1992) with the Pirates, a National League Pennant (1997) with the Marlins, and a World Series the same year. Though the record might not show it, Leyland was a desirable manager, because first and foremost he loved his players. This is something that Dave Dombrowski saw during his tenure in Flordia, and when the 2006 Tigers were in a need of a skipper, Leyland was the clear choice for the position.

Welcome to Detroit, Jim Leyland

“It took me a long time to get here, I signed with the Tigers back in 1963”, Leyland joked in his press conference as he assumed the helm of the Detroit Tigers in 2006, and in his first year managed them to his second World Series appearance, and the teams first since 1984. With the help of some special players like Pudge RodriguezMagglio OrdonezJustin VerlanderMiguel Cabrera, and others Leyland helped to transform the culture of baseball, rejuvenating it in his eight-year tenure.

Jim Leyland
Photo Credit: Keith Allison (flickr.com/photos/keithallison

In eight seasons with the team, Jim racked up 700 wins (3rd in team history; S.Anderson 1,331, H. Jennings 1,131), won two pennants (2006 and 2012), and managed in two World Series appearances. His “old school” managerial style was desperately needed because as Andy Van Slyke said on the special, “he was old school, and ‘Old School’ means you do things the right way.” Van Slyke was a player for Leyland during his time in Pittsburgh and a coach on his staff during his time in Detroit.

People in Detroit still question his handling of the bullpen in 2013, Game 2 of the ALCS, when he decided to stay with Joaquin Benoit instead of going with Phil Coke against David Ortiz. On this Leyland stuck to his guns, in typical Leyland fashion he said, “Benoit was my closer and he was my best. I decided to go with my best.” Even though it stings, it’s hard to fault a guy who did so many great things while here for doing what he thought was “best”.  During the 2013 season, Jim decided to step down as the Tigers manager when the season ended. Though it came as a shock to Motown, it was something that was not as abrupt as it seemed.

Jim Leyland: A Baseball Life-

In all, Leyland managed 22 seasons with 4 different teams (Pirates, Marlins, Rockies, and Tigers). He accumulated  1,769 wins–good for 16th all-time., 3 Pennants (1 NL [Marlins], 2 AL [Tigers]), 1 World Series Championship (Marlins, 1997), 3 Manager of the Year (90 & 92 [Pirates], 06 [Tigers]). But his influence goes much further than the games he managed between the white lines.

Jim Leyland was someone who loved the game of baseball. It radiates from his voice every time he talks about the accomplishments of his players. Through the shaky tremor of his vocal chords, he would proclaim how much he loved these guys and how they accomplished so much. Never taking the credit for himself, always pushing it towards the players that got him there. But most of all, and a lesson we could all learn, Jim Leyland had fun in the game of baseball. From an “around the world” tournament in the Pirates locker room to dancing like a fool after the Tigers punched their ticket to the 2012 World Series, Jim Leyland had fun and made the game fun for the players around him.

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His passion for the game, the standards he held his players to, and the strategy he managed with that brought him to heights he probably never imagined he would go, makes him one of the greatest managers to ever don a Major League uniform and create a line-up card. For eight years we were lucky to call him our own; and for that, we tip our caps to you one last time.