The Sports Pages: In Praise of Jim Leyland

“I always turn to the sports pages first, which record man’s accomplishments. The front page has nothing but man’s failures.” -Earl Warren

Last night in the Bronx, the Detroit Tigers sent the New York Yankees home for the winter with a 3-2 win in Game 5 of the ALDS. In my baseball-watching lifetime, the only thing sweeter than a Tigers win is a Tigers win over the Yankees. Last night was a very satisfying night.

The funniest thing about the lead-up to last night’s game, to me anyway, is that I was never nervous about it. I was at Comerica Park for Game 4 and I told my wife two hours before first-pitch on Tuesday that I was nervous. I had butterflies for the first time since my wedding day. From the time that game ended all the way through the final pitch on Thursday, I was calm, almost serene, really. It was strange.

From the sounds of it, I wasn’t the only one who kept his head in the midst of chaos on Thursday. Fox Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi shared a story today in which he quoted Tigers’ ace Justin Verlander talking about Jim Leyland. In the bottom of the eighth, just after Robinson Cano reached to load the bases, Verlander said he looked over at his manager to find Leyland singing along with the music pumped through the stadium at that moment. Talk about nerves of steel.

In fact, Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News did just that. When asked after the game if he was confident when entering the game, Tigers closer Jose Valverde, who retired the heart of the Yankee lineup in order in the ninth, responded in a way only he can. “Confident? No, I was nervous!” Valverde said, unleashing a loud laugh. “No, wait, I was both! It’s never easy.”

In the ultimate game of the division series, Leyland managed the game loosely and aggressively; and his players followed suit. While Leyland was pushing all the right buttons along the way, some of those buttons weren’t even available to him as of late July. But mid-season acquisitions Doug Fister and Delmon Young paid dividends last night, just like they have done since coming to the Tigers.

For all the consternation about how Leyland manages a game during the regular season, I think we can all agree that come playoff time, he is more willing to go outside of his comfort zone. His club’s AL Central title has put Leyland in the conversation for Manager of the Year, but the writers here at FanSided have deemed Tampa Bay’s Joe Maddon as that man. Leyland finished second.

In other managerial news, the Chicago White Sox hired their replacement for the departed Ozzie Guillen yesterday in former all-star third baseman Robin Ventura. Ordinarily, you could list previous experience when introducing your new manager, even if it’s only minor league experience. In this case, the White Sox can’t even list Ventura’s coaching experience; he has none of either.

The move is surprising considering that the media had been touting Terry Francona and Dave Martinez as possible front-runners for the job, but in the end, Sox GM Kenny Williams said he had his eye on Ventura for some time.

For the Tigers, it’s all about looking ahead to the ALCS and the awaiting Texas Rangers. For the rest of the world, we’ll be subjected to the fallout from a disappointing Yankees playoff exit.

There will be plenty of blame to go around and rest assured that Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia will get more than their fair share (just like they do with their contracts), but lost in all of that is the very real possibility that Jorge Posada has played his final game in pinstripes. Posada reached base ten times in the five game series with Detroit and along with Brett Gardner was responsible for starting many a Yankee rally.

I have never been a fan of Posada, he is a Yankee afterall, but he showed late in the year that he can still hit. It looks like the writing is on the wall and Posada is definitely done in New York, the only question that remains is whether or not he’ll choose to sign elsewhere or simply retire. There will be a lot of people talking about how he’ll tarnish his legacy by continuing his career, but those people can shove it. Posada has earned the right to keep playing so long as someone will have him. I hope he does sign on somewhere else and the proceeds to deliver a game-winning double against the Yankees in New York some night. That would be fun to see.

Almost as much fun as last night.

Tags: Alex Rodriguez Detroit Tigers Jim Leyland Jorge Posada Jose Valverde New York Yankees Robin Ventura

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