Monday, October 28, 2013

Jim Leyland: A Link To 3 Decades Of Baseball Greatness

About a week ago it was a bittersweet moment for the game of baseball as Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland retired. Leyland is one the greatest managers of his era compiling a 1,769- 1,728 win/loss record as well as capturing the 1997 World Series with the Florida Marlins. Leyland is more than just an average big league manager, he is a walking link to over 30 years of baseball greatness.

Tony Larussa

Leyland got his first taste of the big leagues as he served as the bench coach for the Chicago White Sox from 1982 to 1985. He got the job through Tony Larussa who he managed against in the minor leagues as part of the Detroit Tigers farm system. As soon as Larussa had been named as manager of the White Sox he immediately got into contact with Leyland and found him a spot as the teams third base coach.

Both managers are potential hall of famers. Some people may not view Leyland as a slam dunk candidate for Cooperstown but his friend and three-time World Series champion Tony Larussa does, saying, “I think he is in the same mold as Earl Weaver, Sparky Anderson and Tom Lasorda.” 
Pretty high praise from a future Hall of Fame manager to include Leyland in the same breath as some of the games greatest skippers.

Barry Bonds

After a few seasons in Chicago as the bench coach for the White Sox Jim Leyland got his first chance to become a manager of a big league ball club when he accepted the Pittsburgh Pirates job in 1986. During his tenure he got a chance to manage one of the games greatest players in Barry Bonds (pre-steroids) and the Pirates were a very successful team under the guidance of Leyland.

Barry Bonds captured the MVP award during the 1990 and 1992 season. This wasn't the Bonds people know and loathe today, this Bonds was an all around player. He could hit for average, hit for power, steal bases and play spectacular defense. When under Leyland, Bonds collected three gold gloves, three silver slugger awards and was named an All-Star twice. He was also a 30/30 player in the 1990 and 1992 seasons when he hit at least 30 home runs and stole 30 bases. Bonds would later to go on to break baseball's all-time home run record previously set by Hank Aaron.

1997 Florida Marlins

After failing to win a World Series ring as the Pirates manager for ten years Leyland began his next gig as manager of the young Florida Marlins Franchise. Leyland did the unthinkable as he guided the young team to a World Series victory over the Cleveland Indians in only the fifth season of play for the team.

Some of the players on that team were guys like Gary Sheffield, Moises Alou, Kevin Brown, Charles Johnson, Bobby Bonilla, Livan Hernandez, Edgar Renteria and Jeff Conine. All players with very accomplished major league careers who were part of what was then the record for the youngest franchise to ever win a world series in major league history.

The team would have a fire sale in the offseason and proceed to lose over 100 games prompting Leyland to leave the team.

Todd Helton & Larry Walker

Leyland made a stop in Colorado with the Rockies during the 1999 season where he encountered 2 players that go by the names of Todd Helton and Larry Walker. The Rockies struggled to get any solid pitching but Walker and Helton led the charge for the team as both hit over .300 with 30+ home runs and 110 RBI+.

Larry Walker hit 379. that season with 37 home runs and 115 RBI. He also won a gold glove, silver slugger, made the all-star team and finished top-ten in MVP voting. Had the Rockies earned more than 72 wins then he would have had a much better chance at capturing his 2nd career MVP award.

As for Todd Helton he was just coming into his own as a player as he hit .320 with 35 home runs and 113 RBI. At that time he was just scratching the surface of what he would become as a player. In 2000 Helton came close to winning the fist triple crown since Carl Yastrzemski. He led the league RBIs (147) and batting average (.372). He fell eight home runs short of taking the triple crown as Sammy Sosa led all major league hitters with 50 home runs. Helton retired this year as the greatest player in Colorado Rockies history.

Miguel Cabrera & Justin Verlander

After a long hiatus from his managerial duties Jim Leyland decided to take the Detroit Tigers job in 2005. He took the team to the World Series in 2006 but eventually lost to the St. Louis Cardinals. He never won a world series in Detroit but he was there to witness some historic moments In baseball history.

In 2007 the Tigers Acquired Miguel Cabrera from the Florida Marlins. At the time the Tigers knew they had gotten an All-Star talent but they didn't know that they were getting the only hitter in baseball who would rival Albert Pujols as the best hitter of this generation. Cabrera is an all-around hitter that can hit for average, power and hit it to any side of the ballpark. Miggy is the games most complete hitter but in 2012 he did the unthinkable.

As I alluded to earlier Todd Helton, who Leyland managed in 1999, came very close to winning the triple crown in 2000.  In 2012 Miguel Cabrera accomplished the feat as he captured the first triple crown since Carl Yastzemksi in 1967. He lead the league in home runs, 44, batting average, .330, and RBIs, 139. Cabrera put himself in the record books and captured the triple crown and MVP that season under the watch of Leyland.

Cabrera wasn't the only MVP/Triple Crown winner in Detroit, just a season before him in 2011 Justin Verlander did the same going 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts. It was the most wins for a pitcher since 1990. Verlander was dominant and became the fist pitcher in nearly a quarter century to win the MVP award and be recognized as not only the games greatest pitcher but the games best player for that season.

Final Thoughts

So as you can see Jim Leyland has been linked to plenty of great players. Think about this: Leyland managed the home run king, led an expansion franchise to the fastest World Series title ever (before Arizona in 2001), managed Larry Walker and Todd Helton in their primes as well as the first pitcher to win the MVP in nearly 20 years in Justin Verlander. Last but not least Leyland managed the first triple crown winner in baseball in nearly five decades as Miguel Cabrera accomplished the feat in 2012. Not to mention his career started working with one of the games greatest skippers in Tony Larussa. The history this man has been apart of and the players he has managed is no coincidence because he does what any great manager does. Leyland put his personnel in the best position to succeed and that warrants a spot in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Check out my video from Youtube discussing my take on Jim Leyland.

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