An ode to former Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland.
It's the off-season. There's plenty of Detroit Tigers news amid a front-office shuffle and roster purge, but why not dive into some evergreen content to turn the clock back? I felt a bit nostalgic watching an MLB network special on Jim Leyland that my father had DVR'd during a trip back to Michigan.
Watching the documentary took me back to a different era of Detroit Tigers baseball, even if those memories end pretty sour most ways you look at it. Full disclaimer: I am a 22-year-old who's fresh out of college from the Spring, so being nostalgic about events from 10ish years ago probably sounds ridiculous to some readers.
I may not have experienced the 1968 World Series. I may not have experienced the 1984 World Series, but I've read the stories, watched the highlights, and even watched the 1984 World Series on VHS tape courtesy of my dad sharing the memories he lived during his younger years.
While I did not experience the last two Tigers World Series wins, I experienced a 2006 World Series loss, but I cannot claim to remember much of that, mostly because I was six years old. Again, I dropped a "disclaimer" that my childhood era of Tigers baseball could be vastly different than the readers.
For me, Tigers baseball was dominated by the amazing starting rotation that fans now mock as they win Cy Young Award after Cy Young Award in other uniforms. Miguel Cabrera and his Triple Crown. Prince Fielder eating fans nachos and belting home runs, and Phil Coke signing my baseball at Comerica Park before a game twice because I said please.
Take me back to the days of watching José Valverde close out games with ease. Take me back to the days of Anibál Sanchez turning into a strikeout machine. Finally, take me back to the days when Jim Leyland was doing this...
I know there are countless things I've left off the short list of things from the not-so-recent past, but watching that Leyland special really got me thinking about the Tigers team I remember watching in my early tween and teen years.
The years when I stood in the living room imitating the batting stances of my favorite Tigers players. The days of mocking Alex Avila because I enjoyed James McCann more. The days of finally realizing Victor Martinez was one of the best hitters I'd seen then.
At the time, I never understood how much Leyland did for those players and how much he did for that group. Now, at 22 years old and working in baseball, it's crazy to think about this. After learning so much about the dynamic of a team and a clubhouse, it just makes me think more about Leyland's tenure in Detroit.
Enough of the trip down memory lane and sappy reminders of a winning Tigers team. Here are a few things that I've realized about that era of Tigers baseball and the coach that powered it all between 2006-2013.
Leyland knew how to command the room. He found that perfect balance of fun that built that relationship between a manager and his players. But, he also was the first to draw the line once the uniforms were on and it was time to compete.
The countless stories from former players about Leyland's rants speak to that. Mainly because as many players that told stories about Leyland chewing the team out had stories to couple with it about Leyland making them a better player, being the funniest guy off the field, or just having fun in the clubhouse.
Finding that balance is vital for any great manager who wants to get the clubhouse camaraderie moving and build morale. Leyland did that with the Tigers. That team supported him, and the video I linked above shows that for a couple of reasons.
Leyland is in tears talking about the fans' support as former Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter comes and carries him into the room where the rest of the team is celebrating. During that MLB Network special I mentioned in the beginning, it was amazing to hear how many of these players had remain connected to their former skipper.
While Leyland's World Series victory came before his time with the Tigers organization, Barry Bonds said that Leyland's victory was "everyone's victory" in reference to the former players he coached. Several interviewees spoke about how great it felt to watch Leyland capture that championship victory.
Even though Leyland fell short with the Tigers, I'd venture to say that all of those players would feel the same way that Leyland left a lasting impact on them and their careers. Watching him as a youngster was fun; he was the old manager smoking darts in the dugout who was not afraid to speak his mind.
I loved watching the Leyland-era Tigers as it's when I really became conscious of the game and understanding more than the simplicity of baseball that we all learn at a young age. He was the Tigers' best manager in my time watching the team; no disrespect to Sparky at all since I never saw him but have heard the many stories and seen the clips; he deserves a tip of the cap of his own.
But for a younger generation Tigers fan, there was nothing like Tigers baseball with Leyland as the team's skipper. If you've stuck around this long as I've rambled, I hope this has reminded you of your favorite time of Tigers baseball.
Whether you're younger like me and have fond memories of the late 2000s, or if you're fond memories come from the corner of Michigan and Trumbull, there's something about the nostalgia of it. While Leyland remains with the organization as a special assistant, the Tigers continue to find their new brand of baseball under Scott Harris.
It's a new era of Tigers baseball in Detroit and should be an exciting one. For myself, looking back on the better days, I have to tip the cap to Leyland for being one of the many reasons I fell in love with this game beyond playing, fell in love with watching, fell in love with analyzing, and fell in love with Detroit Tigers Baseball.
Sticking to the script of my "younger generation" content here, this is where you say, "thanks for coming to my TED talk." Thanks for reading my rambling about my younger years and early fandom of Detroit Tigers baseball.