Way back on June 11th, yours truly wrote an article suggesting the Detroit Tigers fire Jim Leyland. I caught a lot of flak over that. Much has happened in the 4 months since then. The Tigers have been up and down, but eventually prevailed to win the American League central division, and currently hold a 2-0 lead over the Oakland Athletics in the first round of the playoffs. How far the Tigers go in the postseason is anybody's guess, and ultimately winning the World Series certainly isn't out of the question.
Common sense would seem to dictate that I eat crow over that article, but there's just one problem with that. If you've read some my other rants, you already know I don't have any common sense. Ever wonder why the price of the Oakland Press keeps going up? It might be because the paper is paying me Prince Fielder type money to rant like a lunatic. Or maybe I exaggerated that just a little bit. Only Caputo gets that kind of dough. Whatever.
Nevertheless, I'll stick by that June rant and here's why ---
Jim Leyland doesn't know anything hitting or pitching. Like most other major league managers, he has specialized coaches that tutor the players in such things. Though he has sometimes said so, from the dugout he can't tell whether a pitch was an inch outside or not. If one of his pitchers serves up a monster home run to an opposing batter, Leyland will say he made a bad pitch. Yet, if on the same pitch, the opposing batter had struck out -- he'll say it was a good pitch. This is all baloney. Sometimes they hit them, and sometimes they don't.
Leyland's job as a manager is to put the right players in the right positions to give the Tigers the best chance of winning any particular game. He makes out the "line-up" card before the game, decides on a starting pitcher, brings in pinch-hitters and relievers from the bullpen as he sees fit, and can signal in such plays as a hit-and run or sacrifice bunt, given any particular situation.
And in that regard, many knowledgeable baseball people, that are impartial to the Tigers, have found Leyland to be sorely lacking in his judgment. Many times, he's had players playing positions they're not familiar with, and bungled his pitchers.
Leyland, and I dare say many Tiger fans, have become fond of him spouting his post-game pseudo-platitudes to the press, which seems to be intimidated by him for some unknown reason.
Yet, I would still maintain the Tigers continue to win DESPITE Leyland, foibles, gruff attitude, and all.
His contract expires after this year, so the Tigers don't even need to fire him. Just don't renew his contract and let him go back home to Pennsylvania and live happily ever after with his millions in the bank. It's time to move on.
Of course, in the unlikely event the Tigers indeed go on to win the World Series, Leyland will be a hero in the eyes of many, and they'll clamor for a long-term extension to his contract. In my opinion, they would be mistaken, and I hope Tigers' owner Mike Ilitch has the wisdom to see through all that.
Just because Leyland has been around the major leagues for a long time, enjoying the "good ole boy" rotation system that seems to be prevalent amongst head coaches and managers in various pro sports, doesn't necessarily mean he's any good.
And who knows? If the Tigers become world champs, maybe Leyland will take a cue from another manager that was always light years ahead of him in baseball strategy. Tony LaRussa of the St. Louis Cardinals, also a long-shot to win the World Series last year, did so and promptly announced his retirement. He went out on top.
That would be a win-win. Perfect.