Leyland exactly where he belongs with Tigers
Veteran skipper has shown he knows when it is time to move on
With the highly-favored Tigers battling until the final days of last season with the White Sox before claiming the American League Central title there was talk that manager Jim Leyland might not return to Detroit for 2013.
Leyland heard the talk.
He, however, wasn't listening.
Leyland is ready to embark on his 22nd season as a Major League manager (his eighth with the Tigers ) confident enough in his ability to handle the job that he shrugs off the doubts others might have had at times last year.
And if Leyland says he's looking forward to managing, believe him.
He has proven over the years that he is not afraid to step away when he doesn't feel he is the right fit.
Three times in his managerial career, Leyland has stepped down -- in Pittsburgh, Florida and Colorado -- and each time it was on his own doing.
He guided the Pirates to three consecutive National League East titles (1990-92), but after four additional years of struggles, he stepped down and took the job with the Marlins. Florida won a World Series championship in '97, but ownership announced before the celebration parade that it was going to gut the roster. And when the inexperienced Marlins stumbled to 108 losses in '98, Leyland knew he didn't fit in a major rebuilding plan.
He went to Colorado, signing a three-year, $6 million deal, then walked away after a 90-loss season in 1999, leaving $4 million on the table after doing what he called a "lousy job." Leyland said that the challenges of making a living at altitude did not fit his managerial DNA.
For the next six years, Leyland was a special assistant to the St. Louis Cardinals, working with his long-time friend, Tony La Russa, who managed the Cardinals. It was La Russa who hired Leyland as a coach with the Chicago White Sox in 1982, Leyland's first big league job.
And those six years, as much as anything, might be what keeps Leyland going at the age of 68, when some of his peers -- including La Russa and Bobby Cox -- have decided to call it quits on their successful managerial careers.
"In some ways, those six years off have been a blessing," said Leyland. "I got to watch the kids grow up, and I had a chance to realize how much [managing] meant, how much I enjoyed that challenge.
"I still enjoy the job, and that's what matters to me. It's not about the money. That should be evident [from his past decisions]. It's about still feeling an excitement for the job, and feeling that I am earning the money, feeling that I am doing the job."
He's done that in Detroit.
A three-time winner of the Manager of the Year Award, he has a 607-528 record in seven years with the Tigers, having won two division titles and also advancing to the postseason in 2006 as the AL Wild Card. He is the first manager to have taken the Tigers to two World Series during his tenure since Mickey Cochrane (1934-35). The Tigers, in fact, had been to the Fall Classic only twice ('68 and '84) in the 60 years before Leyland guided them into the World Series against St. Louis in 2006.
And he has deep Detroit ties, not only having grown up Perrysburg, Ohio, just an hour or so away from the Motor City, but having begun his professional career with the Tigers as a Minor League catcher, coach and manager.
"It's where I grew up in the game," said Leyland. "Don't know if I would have [taken a job] anywhere else. I interviewed in Philadelphia when Charlie [Manuel] got the job, but nothing else. This just feels like the right place.
"We've got a good team in Detroit and the home crowds are great."
But then there is nothing like on-field success to generate fan enthusiasm.
The Tigers have had that, and Leyland expects it to continue.
He was impressed with the way the Tigers handled the challenge last year. The egos were subdued. It was as evident as eventual AL MVP Award winner Miguel Cabrera welcomed a move from first base to third base, even though it is not his best defensive position, to make room for the signing of free-agent Prince Fielder.
"The expectations [in Detroit] are high, and they should be," Leyland said. "You want expectations to be high. You can't wish your way to the World Series. You have to be good enough to earn it."
Leyland feels he has a team that is good enough to do that again this year.
And he knows that carries a pressure to succeed.
"If I don't do well they might tell me to get out," he admitted, "but so far we've done well."
So far, nobody has had to tell Leyland to get out.
He has proven that he is aware of where he belongs, and when it's time to move on.
He knows he belongs in Detroit.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.