Managing in baseball is always a tenuous position. You can go from goat to hero, or from hero to goat, almost as fast as Bill Buckner after allowing a ball to trickle through his legs. In 2006, Tigers Manager Jim Leyland, took a relative band of unknowns all the way to the World Series in his first season at the helm of the Detroit Tigers. It rightfully bought him a lot of meals around the greater Detroit area. But just 2 short years later, Leyland lead a 2008 team that was expected to do great things to a last place finish in the A.L. Central, and had fans wondering if he was the right guy for the job. 2009 got him back in good graces with the fans, up until a late season collapse cost the Tigers a playoff spot. It wasn’t the first bad 2nd half in his tenure with the Tigers, and it made Leyland’s seat a little bit warmer.
2011 was a big year for the Tigers sometimes affable, sometimes grumpy Manager. Leyland fought with the media on several occasions about lineups, and fans grew impatient, as the Tigers struggled to shuck the Cleveland Indians from contention. However, midway through the season, the Tigers still gave Leyland a one year contract extension into 2012, and not long after, they shook the Indians and cruised to a division crown. It was the first since Leyland joined the Tigers, and the first time the 2nd half of the season wasn’t an issue.
When the extension was given out, it was kind of a surprise to many Tigers fans, some of which have been hunting for Leyland’s head for a while. I admit that I was among the group of those individuals who had become frustrated with his style of management, and was hoping for a change. The Tigers strong finish shut me up, much like it did the talk of parting ways with him. For the first time since Leyland arrived in Detroit, his detractors can’t say he is a below average manager anymore, as he has pushed his career record to 3 games above .500.
Heading into 2012, Jim Leyland is 67 years old. While his age probably has very little to do with his ability to manage a baseball team, it might have an affect on his desire to do so. In fact, when the Tigers announced that they were extending Leyland last year for just a season, it appeared that on both sides of the deal, they were satisfied with the idea of doing this on a year by year basis. So from now on, it is going to go one year at a time. It doesn’t take a genius to see that this allows both sides a quick way out without too much damage. Leyland could retire at any point should he feel so, and not cost the Tigers a bunch financially or commitment wise. And if David Dombrowski and the Tigers don’t like the direction the team is going, one year deals work the same for them.
Now, I should say that I am not advocating parting ways with Leyland for 2012, but baseball is a fickle business, and right or wrong, managers often get too much blame if things go badly. The frustrations with him about his lineups aside, he does manage personalities well. Hopefully the Tigers perform well enough that this isn’t even a question unless it’s because the Tigers have gotten to the top of the mountain. A scenario could rise where Leyland could retire if he goes out on top with a World Series win after the season.
Who takes over when Jim Leyland is gone?
The name that comes to mind for most Tigers fans right away is current Arizona Diamondback Manager Kirk Gibson. Tigers fans love the fire he played with here, and you can’t help but notice the success he had in his first full year as their manager. I just don’t see it happening though. There is no reason to leave the situation he has got as the Diamondbacks appear poised to win over the long haul.
Tom Brookens is another name that gets thrown around a lot by Tigers fans. I’m not sure this is the answer either. While he does have some experience managing at the AA level, I don’t know if that qualifies him to get a big league job at this point. It’s great that he is an ex-Tiger player and all, but he isn’t first in the pecking order in the Tigers organization. That man is most likely Lloyd McClendon. McClendon’s name has already come up as a guy that teams should have interest in, brought up by ex-Tigers beat writer Jon Paul Morosi, and covered in November in an article by our own Sam Genson.
With all due respect to Tigers bench coach Gene Lamont, who interviewed with Boston this off-season, it looks like McClendon is next in line for the position of Tigers manager. While Lamont has had some success as a manager, he hasn’t done so for a long time, and he is getting up there in age himself at 65 years old. I just don’t see the Tigers wanting to take on a guy who could be in his late sixties by the time the Tigers move on from Jim Leyland. So that leaves hitting coach Lloyd McClendon at the forefront of the discussion from within the organization.
Whether you like him or not, McClendon presents an individual who has management experience, is somewhat young at 52 currently, and also knows the current Tigers players, where he makes sense as the eventual replacement for Leyland. I know that probably doesn’t sit well with Tigers fans who think he is bad at his job as a hitting coach. To me, much like the guy who is managing the team, the hitting coach either gets entirely too much credit, or not enough, both good and bad. Despite his under .500 record as a manager over his career, Lloyd McClendon was widely considered a solid manager who was respected by his players. And can we really criticize Lloyd at all for a sub .500 record? It was the Pittsburgh Pirates after all. It’s not like that organization is known for its support of their managers by providing good players.
The Tigers could of course go outside the organization to replace Leyland, whenever that is. The Mike Scoscia management tree appears to be a good one. His last couple of bench coaches in Joe Maddon and Ron Roenicke have gone on to be pretty successful themselves. They also play an aggressive style of baseball that is enjoyable to watch. The problem with that though is continuity throughout the clubhouse, and when you have a pretty good roster, it is probably easiest and most prudent for the Tigers to just promote from within.
A dark horse candidate could be Phil Nevin. Nevin is moving up the ladder quickly, and given his age, he should be able to relate to guys in the clubhouse. I worry that there isn’t enough experience there though, and would hope that he would get strong consideration for McClendon’s bench coach, should he take over the job.
I certainly hope that come June in 2012 the Tigers are announcing another one year extension for Jim Leyland. Not because I love the guy as a manager, but because that means the Tigers are performing well. Regardless of who is driving the ship, that is what we want as Tigers fans. The reality is though, the nature of the one year relationship means it could be broken at any time by either side, and it’s okay for the organization to have a plan in mind.
I guess I am advocating that plan be Lloyd McClendon.