In 1986, the New York Mets were the best team in baseball. The Pittsburgh Pirates were the worst. Yet after the Pirates finished their season series against the Mets, losing 17 out of 18 games, their feisty manager, Jim Leyland, issued a challenge. “If they were that good, how did they lose that one game to us?” said a defiant Leyland.1
It was that competitive spirit which drove the chain-smoking Leyland throughout his career as one of the top managers of his era, taking two teams to the World Series and another to within one out of a trip to the Series. That spirit came from Leyland’s father James, who was so intense that he once suffered a mild heart attack after the excitement of watching Jim kick a game-winning field goal in high school. When Leyland was named co-manager of the year in 1988, his father reminded him that he hadn’t won the award outright.2
“He never let you be satisfied,” Leyland said. “Oh, it pissed me off. We were two of a kind. I competed my ass off, and he’d be on me that it wasn’t enough.”3
During his 22 years as a major-league manager, Leyland didn’t always have winning teams, as evidenced by his career won-lost record of 1,769-1,728 (.506).4 But the force of his personality turned losing franchises in Pittsburgh and Detroit into championship teams, led Miami to a World Series title in the Marlins’ first postseason appearance, and made Leyland only the third person to be named Manager of the Year in both the American and National Leagues. He was so respected by his players that he was carried off the field on their shoulders in celebration multiple times.
James Richard Leyland was born on December 15, 1944, in Toledo, Ohio, one of James’ and Veronica’s seven children.5 He grew up a Cleveland Indians fan in Perrysburg, Ohio, on the Maumee River about 70 miles from Detroit. His father Jim, a catcher for a semipro baseball team, worked the swing shift in the Libby-Owens Ford Glass Plant for 46 years, eventually rising to foreman.6 Jim learned to play baseball from his father, and went to his first Cleveland Indians game when he was 10. By that point, Jim was already the batboy for the Petersburg Merchants semipro team.7
In addition to earning nine varsity letters playing football, basketball, and baseball at Perrysburg High School, 8 Leyland, whose nickname was “Jimbo,” was voted most popular senior boy in 1962.9 A 5-foot-7, 150-pound quarterback, Leyland earned all-league honors his senior year.10 He was the starting point guard in basketball and the starting catcher in baseball. “He wasn’t the fastest player in the world, and he wasn’t the most physical guy, but he was also the smartest kid I’ve ever been around,” said John “Doc” Thomas, a coach and trainer at Perrysburg High.11 Leyland’s most memorable sports moment in high school came when he kicked a 29-yard game-winning field goal with 16 seconds left to give Perrysburg a 9-6 victory over Genoa in a football game which decided the league championship. Not only was it the first field goal he had attempted in a game, but he had also never even tried one in practice.12
Although he grew up rooting for the Cleveland Indians, Leyland quickly switched allegiances to the Detroit Tigers after the Tigers’ long-time Toledo area scout Herman Kander signed him in 1963 for $400 a month with no bonus. A career .222 hitter with just four home runs in 446 games, he spent six seasons as a backup catcher in the Tigers’ farm system, never rising above Class AA, but establishing himself as a popular teammate who loved music.13 In his seventh season, 1970, when he was about to be released as a player, Leyland decided to take the Tigers’ offer to be a minor-league coach.
“I knew before anyone else that I couldn’t play. I was perceptive enough to see the competition and realize that I wasn’t a player. Because of that it didn’t come as a shock to me when they told me I was through,” Leyland said. “As a player, I liked watching the manager and how he handled players. At the time I really didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. I was only 25. So, I decided to go ahead and coach in the minor leagues.”14
Leyland spent 1970 as a coach for the Montgomery (Alabama) Rebels in the Class AA Southern League and began 1971 as a coach for the Rocky Mount (North Carolina) Leafs in the Class A Carolina League before being offered a salary of $6,000 to manage the Bristol (Virginia) Tigers in the Appalachian Rookie League. That was the beginning of an 11-year journey through the Tigers’ farm system, rising through the ranks until he eventually spent three years managing Detroit’s top farm team, the Class AAA Evansville (Indiana) Triplets. He was a two-time Manager of the Year in the Florida State League, and Manager of the Year in Triple-A with Evansville in 1979. Leyland’s teams qualified for the postseason six times, and he won three titles at two different levels.
During his 17 years as a player and then a manager in the Detroit farm system, Leyland never made much money. He spent offseasons working a variety of jobs, including driving a truck, cutting out windshields in the same Ford glass factory where his father worked, and working for the post office. His top salary was in 1981, when he earned $22,000 for managing Evansville. “I thought I was rich,” Leyland said. “I didn’t know any better.”15
By the end of the 1981 season, Leyland had paid his dues and was hopeful that the Tigers’ new manager, Sparky Anderson, would add him to his coaching staff. When Leyland was passed over, he left the Detroit organization.16 He finally did make it to the majors, though, in 1982, when Chicago White Sox manager Tony La Russa, who had played against Leyland in Double-A and managed against him in Triple-A, hired him as his third base coach.
For the next four seasons, Leyland coached on La Russa’s staff, with the two of them often replaying games in La Russa’s office until the wee hours.17 In November 1985, Leyland was a finalist but lost out to Hal Lanier on getting the managerial job with the Houston Astros. He was on his couch, half asleep, when Syd Thrift, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ new general manager, called to see if he was interested in managing. Leyland thought it was a prank call. It was not. On November 21, 1985, the 40-year-old Leyland signed a one-year contract for $100,000 to manage a Pittsburgh team coming off a 104-loss season under Chuck Tanner.18
Taking over a team with unstable ownership, a new GM, and declining attendance, Leyland did not promise any quick fixes. “I’m no miracle worker, I’m a hard worker.” he said at his introductory press conference.19 La Russa, though, made a bold prediction. “Give him a few years and he’ll be the best manager in the league.”20
Off the field, 1985 was also an eventful year for Leyland, as it was the year in which he stopped drinking. The impetus was a DUI arrest in Toledo while he was a White Sox coach. “It scared the heck out of me,” said Leyland. “I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, but I never made a stupid mistake without alcohol being involved.”21 While Leyland gave up one vice in 1985, he never could quit another. A notorious chain smoker, he snuck cigarettes in the dugout even when he was violating local laws on public smoking and even after MLB asked him to stop.22
The 1986 Pirates improved from 57 wins to 64 wins in Leyland’s first year as manager, but that was not enough to keep them from finishing last in the NL East for the third straight year, 44 games behind the Mets. That spring marked the major-league debut, though, of 21-year-old outfielder Barry Bonds, the Pirates’ first-round draft pick from 1985, when he was the sixth overall player chosen. For the next seven seasons, the careers of Bonds and Leyland would be closely linked.
There was a buzz around the Pirates entering the 1987 season. Leyland warned about expecting too much from Bonds. “They think they have a hero, a superstar,” he said. “Some guys just aren’t ready to absorb all that. He hasn’t really absorbed it.”23
That didn’t dim the enthusiasm, though, as the Pirates opened the season in front of a Three Rivers Stadium record crowd of 52,119, marking the first time the team had sold out its season opener at the stadium, which had opened in 1970. The Pirates went 80-82, a 16-game improvement, and the team was named Pittsburghers of the Year by Pittsburgh Magazine. 24
Leyland was rewarded with a new one-year contract. “The Pirates have treated me fairly both financially and emotionally – plus I got a wife out of it, too,” he said, referring to his upcoming wedding to Katie O’Connor, a native of Latrobe, Pennsylvania, who was the Pirates’ event coordinator.25 The two met while Leyland was picking out furniture and dated for a year before getting married in November in a ceremony officiated by Jim’s brother Thomas, a Catholic priest.26 It was the second marriage for Leyland, whose first marriage in 1976 to Joanna Grow lasted only 13 months.27
Entering the 1988 season, Sports Illustrated called Leyland the best young manager in the game.28 He lived up to the hype as the Pirates went 85-75, their first winning season in five years, and set a home attendance record. Leyland was named Sporting News Co-Manager of the Year, sharing the honor with the Dodgers’ Tom Lasorda. Off the field, though, Thrift was at constant odds with the Pirates’ owners, and after the season was replaced as GM by Larry Doughty. Thrift’s last official act was to grant Leyland his request for a two-year contract worth $250,000 per year. Leyland was no longer one of the lowest-paid managers, although his salary was still below the average manager’s pay of $287,000.29
The Pirates, ravaged by injuries, took a step back in 1989, finishing fifth (74-88), 19 games behind the Chicago Cubs. It all came together for the Pirates and Leyland, though, in 1990, as they won the first of three straight NL East titles. The Pirates got all the motivation they needed from Mets pitcher Dwight Gooden, who called them “a Little League team.”30 It didn’t take long for the Pirates to get their revenge, as they beat Gooden and the Mets, 12-3, on Opening Day.
Buoyed by a trade with Montreal for pitcher Zane Smith on August 8, the Pirates won 95 games and finished four games ahead of the Mets. After the Pirates clinched the division in St. Louis on Sept. 29, Leyland’s players carried him off the field on their shoulders. When they flew home, 10,000 fans greeted them at the airport.
Although the Pirates were favored over the Cincinnati Reds in the NLCS, they lost the series in six games and Leyland was criticized for misleading the press about his Game Six starter. Leyland instructed Smith to tell the press that he was going to start, but all along Leyland intended to instead start Ted Power, a right-hander who had pitched only in relief during the regular season. Leyland wanted the Reds to stack their lineup with left-handed batters, and then bring in the left-handed Smith to face them. The strategy got good results, as Power pitched 2 1/3 innings and Smith four, each giving up just one run – but the Reds won, 2-1, as the Pirates only managed one hit and Cincinnati right fielder Glenn Braggs made a game-saving catch in the ninth inning, leaping over the fence to rob Carmelo Martinez of a two-run homer.31
Leyland received 17 of 24 first-place votes to earn NL Manager of the Year, as well as the Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year Award, a prestigious honor given each year to a local sports figure.32 “He (Leyland) is head and shoulders above them all,” said Pirates pitcher Bob Walk. “The best manager in baseball.”33
The 1991 season got off to a rocky start. First Leyland was upset that the Pirates let first baseman Sid Bream, one of his favorite players, depart as a free agent. Then Bonds, upset over losing his arbitration hearing, boycotted the press in spring training, leading to a confrontation with Leyland after Bonds began yelling at coach Bill Virdon over a photographer’s presence during a drill. “I’m the manager of this team. That’s who the f— I am,” yelled Leyland. “I’ve kissed your ass for three years. I’m not going to do it anymore.”34
Most of the players sided with Leyland, and the spring training turmoil, as well as outfielder Bobby Bonilla’s anger over the Pirates’ refusal to pay him what he thought he deserved, had little effect on the regular season, in which the Pirates won an NL-best 98 games and took the division by 14 games over St. Louis.35 After the Pirates clinched the division on September 22, a tearful Leyland said, “When I took this job, nobody wanted it. Now there’s a lot of guys who would like to have it.”36
The Pirates set a home attendance record of 2,065,302; led the league in runs scored; had a league-high 51 saves; and – helped by the defense of an eventual five Gold Glove winners – were second in the NL in ERA (3.44).37 Their foe in the NLCS was the Atlanta Braves, who had become the first NL team to go from first to last. The Pirates were the favorites but lost a seven-game series dominated by pitching. The series featured three 1-0 games and four shutouts total. With their big hitters Bonilla, Bonds, and Andy Van Slyke in a collective slump, the Pirates were shut out at home in both Games 6 and 7, going scoreless over the final 22 innings.38
Leyland was second to Atlanta’s Bobby Cox in the Manager of the Year voting in a tumultuous offseason which saw Ted Simmons replace Doughty as the Pirates’ GM and Bonilla sign with the Mets. Leyland’s relationship with Simmons got off to a rocky start, as he was upset over the release of pitcher Bill Landrum and angry that 20-game winner John Smiley was traded to Minnesota without Leyland being consulted.39
In 1992, Leyland managed to hold the Pirates together despite the losses of key players. Seven different pitchers recorded a save, and 15 different pitchers won at least one game. With Bonds, the eventual league MVP, setting the pace, the Pirates led the NL in runs scored and had the third-best ERA, winning 96 games and clinching their third straight division title with a week to go in the season, finishing nine games ahead of Montreal. Once again, his players carried Leyland off the field.
This time, the Braves were favored in the NLCS as the teams met in a rematch of the previous season’s seven-game battle.40 With Bonds again struggling the postseason, the Pirates fell behind in the series, 3-1, but rallied to force a Game Seven, and held a two-run lead going into the bottom of the ninth. The champagne was being set up in Pittsburgh’s locker room, and Tim Wakefield, the winning pitcher with complete games in Games Three and Six, was having his name engraved on the MVP trophy. But with the Braves down to their last out and trailing by a run, pinch-hitter Francisco Cabrera’s single to left field drove in Dave Justice from third, and Bream scored from second, as the throw home from Bonds to Mike LaValliere was slightly off line, allowing Bream to slide under the tag. The series-ending play became one of the iconic moments in postseason play, but that was little consolation to Leyland, who had to settle for once again being named Manager of the Year. “I did my best job in my seven years as manager,” he said.41
Leyland stayed in Pittsburgh for four more years, but the Pirates’ prosperous run, which had twice taken them to within one win of reaching the World Series, was over. Instead, with rumors circulating of the Pirates’ new owners looking to leave Pittsburgh, stars like Bonds, Van Slyke, and Doug Drabek departed via free agency, leading to the start of a streak of 20 consecutive losing seasons.42
After the Pirates finished last in 1995, winning just 58 games, Leyland said, “It’s been a miserable year, a disastrous year. It’s one of the toughest years I’ve had in 32 years in baseball.”43 In 1996, following another last-place finish and more cost-cutting, Leyland announced that for the sake of his health and his career, he was moving on. A tearful Leyland received five standing ovations at the Pirates’ final home game, and afterwards told the fans that he loved Pittsburgh and it was always going to be his home.44 Gene Lamont, his one-time minor league roommate and one of Leyland’s former coaches, was hired to replace him. Leyland later said, “I had a relationship in Pittsburgh I’ll never have again.”45
Leyland didn’t stay unemployed for long. After turning down offers to manage the White Sox, Red Sox, and Angels, on October 4, 1996, he accepted a five-year contract worth $6 million from the Florida Marlins. Leyland had been good friends with the Marlins’ first president, Carl Barger, who died in 1992, and through him became friends with Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga and team president Dom Smiley. He also knew Marlins GM Dave Dombrowski from the early 1980s, when they both were with the White Sox.46
While the Pirates had been in a cost-cutting mode, the Marlins were 80-82 in 1996, their best record in their four years of existence. Huizenga then opened his wallet, spending a then-record $87 million on free agents that offseason, giving the Marlins one of the highest payrolls in baseball. The signings included pitcher Alex Fernandez and outfielder Moises Alou, as well as a controversial signing of Bonilla to a four-year contract worth $23.3 million. Leyland had pushed for the Marlins to sign Bonilla, who said Leyland “has always been a father figure to me.”47
The star-studded Marlins went 25-6 in spring training and a poll of baseball executives named Leyland the best manager in the game. “He communicates with everybody. From the guy who picks up the jock straps to the president of the club. Backups. Stars. It doesn’t matter. He treats everybody like a human being,” said Rich Donnelly, his long-time coach.48
Florida won 92 games, finishing nine games behind Atlanta in the NL East, but four games ahead of the Mets and Dodgers in the wild-card race. The Marlins’ first series back in Pittsburgh drew 78,000 fans, nearly double the season average, as the fans cheered for Leyland even while his Marlins swept the series.
The season, though, wasn’t all smooth sailing for Leyland, On May 14, in the presence of a female sportswriter, Leyland called the women’s liberation movement “the ruination of this country.” He later said he thought he was speaking off the record.49 Huizenga also threatened to sell the team if he didn’t get a significant tax break to build a new stadium.50
The Marlins faced Bonds and the Giants in the Divisional Series. After the Marlins swept the series in three games, Bonds visited the Florida clubhouse and told Leyland, “I love you man, you’re the best,” leaving Leyland in tears.51
In the NLCS, Leyland faced his old nemesis, the Braves. The Marlins won in six games, but Leyland was again in the middle of several controversies, both of his own doing. First, he did not allow reporters access to the dugout during batting practice until MLB required him to do so. Then, conflicting reports over how and when Game Six starter Kevin Brown flew ahead of the team to Atlanta made it look like the Marlins didn’t know where he was. “We can now call Leyland a raving phoney,” wrote Joel Sherman in the New York Post.52 Amid the controversy, Brown was in Atlanta and started Game Six, where in the dugout after the sixth inning he talked Leyland into leaving him in the game with the Marlins ahead 7-3. Brown, who had already retired the last seven batters he had face, went on to retire the final nine batters in order en route to a complete-game victory.
In only their fifth year of existence, the Marlins found themselves in the World Series, where they faced a Cleveland team appearing in the Series for the second time in three years. The sloppily played first four games featured 56 runs, 44 walks and nine errors (including three in one inning by the Indians), with an average margin of victory of 4.5 runs, leading Sports Illustrated to call it the “Faux Classic.”53 Dan Shaughnessy, writing for The Boston Globe, said, “It’s as if the Marlins and Indians are using this Series to officially kill baseball.”54
The Marlins had a chance to clinch the Series with their ace, Brown, on the mound in Game Six, but the Indians disappointed the crowd of 67,498 at Pro Player Stadium with a 4-1 victory, setting up a decisive Game Seven. The Marlins trailed, 2-1, in Game Seven and were down to their final two outs when they tied the game with a sacrifice fly by Craig Counsell. Edgar Renteria then gave Florida a walk-off Series-clinching victory with a two-out bases-loaded hit in the bottom of the 11th.
When asked on NBC afterwards if he might retire now that he had won a World Series, Leyland said, “My wife doesn’t like me that much. I can’t retire.”55 On a more serious note, Leyland thought of his hard-driving late father. “You know what I wanted to do with that trophy,” Leyland said. “I wanted to go to the tomb site and tell my dad, ‘It ain’t co-manager this time.’”56
The Marlins’ bubble didn’t take long to burst. Just five days after the Series ended, the team started trading away its high-priced stars, a process that continued throughout the 1998 season. The Marlins’ 54-108 record was the worst in baseball, and Florida made history by becoming the first defending World Series champions to lose 100 games and the first to finish in last place. Leyland, who had to use 38 rookies during the season, had seen enough. He resigned on October 1, saying, “I didn’t enjoy seeing our brains getting beaten in this season, and neither did anybody else.”57
Leyland had no shortage of suitors for his next stop. The Dodgers and Tigers both expressed interest, but he ended up signing a three-year contract for $6 million to manage the Rockies, replacing the fired Don Baylor. It turned out to be a bad fit, as Leyland stepped down after the Rockies finished last in 1999 in the NL West with 72 wins, mainly owing to a team ERA of 6.01, the highest, as of 2022, in major-league history. A 6-4 victory over San Diego on April 15, which was his 1,000th career victory, was one of the few highlights.
Leyland admitted he didn’t enjoy managing in the mile-high air in Denver. “Colorado was a bad decision for me,” he said. “I was a pitcher’s manager, and I just couldn’t do it in that ballpark.”58 Instead, Leyland walked away from the remaining $4 million on his contract. He spent the next six years working for his long-time buddy La Russa, this time as a scout for the St. Louis Cardinals, and devoting time to his family, which included his son Patrick and daughter Kelly, both of whom were born during Leyland’s tenure in Pittsburgh.
By 2004, Leyland was ready to get back in the dugout. That fall, he interviewed for the Philadelphia Phillies’ job, but the team hired Charlie Manuel instead.59 Leyland fared better the next offseason, though, as the Detroit Tigers, who had tried to hire him the year he took the Marlins’ job, came calling again. The Tigers, who had a streak of 12 straight losing seasons, fired Alan Trammell and hired Leyland, giving him a three-year contract.
It didn’t take Leyland long to earn the respect of his players. On April 17, the Tigers were trailing Cleveland 7-1 in the third inning when All-Star catcher Iván Rodriguez, with a runner on second, hit what he thought was an RBI single. But Lamont, the Tigers’ third-base coach, held Placido Polanco up at third base. From across the diamond, a furious Rodriguez held his arms up and yelled at Lamont. After the game, a 10-2 loss, Leyland called a team meeting and said any player who showed up a coach like that would never play for him again. “He got the whole room’s attention,” said Detroit closer Todd Jones. “And he only had to do it once.”60
That was the start of an eventful 2006 season for the Tigers, who got hot in midsummer and were 40 games over .500 (76-36) before a late-season collapse cost them the AL Central title. With a 95-67 record, though, Detroit earned the wild card berth and made its first postseason appearance in 19 years. In the ALDS, the Tigers stunned the AL East champion Yankees in four games and then swept Oakland in the ALCS, capped off by a walk-off home run by Magglio Ordóñez in Game Four. Once again, Leyland was carried off the field by his players.
The 2006 World Series matchup between St. Louis and Detroit couldn’t have been scripted any better. The Cardinals were managed by Leyland’s close friend La Russa. The winner would become only the second manager to win a World Series in each league. The first to do so, Sparky Anderson, had accomplished that feat 22 years earlier when he, like Leyland, was managing the Tigers.
The Series didn’t live up to the hype. The Tigers had a seven-day layoff after sweeping Oakland, while the Cardinals had only one day off after beating the Mets in a tense Game Seven in the NLCS. After splitting the first two games in Detroit, the Cardinals won the next three games at home to win the Series in five games. Detroit pitchers set a record by making five errors. At the plate, the Tigers batted just .199 and only scored 11 runs. “We had kind of a freak World Series,” Leyland said later. “The pitchers made errors. We didn’t hit. And the layoff didn’t help.”61
Leyland was a landslide winner in the voting for AL Manager of Year, joining La Russa and Bobby Cox as the only people to win it in both leagues. He later called the 2006 season his “most rewarding year. It really ignited baseball again in Detroit.”62
The Tigers missed the postseason the next four years, coming closest in 2009, when they lost a one-game playoff to the Minnesota Twins, 6-5, in 12 innings at the Metrodome. “That was one of the greatest games I’ve been involved in, but we let it get away,” said Leyland, whose team led 3-1 in the sixth inning and 5-4 in the 10th.63 In midseason 2009, the Tigers gave Leyland a two-year contract extension, paying him a reported $4 million per year.64
In 2011, the Tigers, led by Cy Young award winner and AL MVP Justin Verlander, returned to the postseason in historic fashion, as Detroit won its first division title in 24 years, clinching with 11 games remaining in the regular season. The Tigers won 95 games, winning the AL Central by 15 games. After beating the Yankees in five games in the ALDS, the Tigers were defeated by Texas in six games in the ALCS.
Detroit went on to win the AL Central the next two years as well, with Miguel Cabrera earning back-to-back MVP awards. The Tigers won seven fewer games (88) in 2012 than they had the previous season, but still beat Chicago by three games in the AL Central race. Leyland then led Detroit back to the World Series as the Tigers beat Oakland in five games in the ALDS and swept the Yankees in the ALCS, earning a Series berth against San Francisco. But once again, the long layoff between the end of the ALCS and the start of the Series hurt the Tigers, who were shut out in two of the four games, scored just six runs, and batted a dismal .159. “We were embarrassed,” Leyland said afterwards.65
Detroit won another down-to-the-wire AL Central race in 2013, going 93-69 and edging Cleveland by one game. It marked the first time since 1907-09 that the Tigers had won three straight titles. With a powerful lineup anchored by Cabrera and an impressive starting rotation led by Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, the Tigers were poised to get back to the World Series. First, though, they needed five games to get past Oakland in the ALDS for the second straight year.
Next up was a 97-win Red Sox team. The Tigers won Game One, 1-0, as the Red Sox struck out 17 times against Aníbal Sánchez and four relievers and were held hitless until the ninth inning. The turning point came in Game Two, which started with Scherzer no-hitting Boston until the sixth inning, striking out 13 and leaving with a 5-1 lead. But four Detroit relievers failed to hold that lead in the bottom of the eighth, with David Ortiz tying the game with a grand slam off Detroit closer Joaquin Benoit, a play immortalized by the image of Tigers right fielder Torii Hunter tumbling headfirst into the Red Sox bullpen in a futile attempt to catch the blast as a security guard stood behind him with his arms raised in celebration. The Red Sox scored in the bottom of the ninth for a walk-off win to even the series and went on to eliminate the Tigers in six games. The Detroit bullpen coughed up another lead on a grand slam in the seventh inning of Game Six, this time by Shane Victorino, who was 2-for-23 in the series before his big hit. “This one hurts bad,” said Leyland after the ALCS. “We let one get away. I truly believe the Detroit Tigers should be playing (in the World Series).”66
One day after the Tigers were eliminated, Leyland surprised the baseball world by announcing his resignation. “The fuel was getting low and that’s the way it went,” Leyland said. “It was time.”67
In his eight seasons in Detroit, Leyland won 700 games, had six winning seasons, four postseason appearances, three division titles and became only the third manager in franchise history to take two different teams to the World Series. He remained in the organization as a special assistant to general manager Dave Dombrowski. In 2017, he managed Team USA to a title in the World Baseball Classic, making him the only manager to win both the World Series and the WBC.
As of 2022, he and Katie lived in Pittsburgh while he continued to work for the Tigers as a special assistant, as well as serving as a special assistant to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred. Leyland’s son Patrick was drafted by the Tigers in 2010, released in 2011, and played with several other organizations before leaving baseball.
By 2022, Leyland had been inducted into the Perrysburg High School Hall of Fame, the Florida State League Hall of Fame (2010) and the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame (2017), but not the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Historically, Leyland compared favorably to Hall of Fame managers Cox, Earl Weaver, and Whitey Herzog. He took three different franchises to the postseason, was one of only two managers to win three straight division titles with two franchises, won a pennant in both leagues and a World Series. Regardless of whether the Hall ever came calling, Leyland had no complaints.
“I had an unbelievable, fabulous career,” he said. “Look at it. I was an AA catcher, released, could have ended up back home working in the factory. It didn’t work out that way. I got a chance to stay in the game – and I ended up managing in the big leagues 22 years. I managed some of the greatest players to ever play the game. I met five presidents. I made money. And I’m extremely grateful.”68
Last revised: December 13, 2022
This story was edited by Gregory H. Wolf and Rory Costello and fact-checked by Ray Danner.
Peterson, Richard and Stephen Peterson. The Slide: Leyland, Bonds & the Star-Crossed Pittsburgh Pirates. (Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press. 2020).
Rosenbaum, Dave. If They Don’t Win, It’s a Shame: The Year the Marlins Bought the World Series. (Tampa, McGregor Publishing, 1998).
1 Richard Peterson and Stephen Peterson, The Slide: Leyland, Bonds & the Star-Crossed Pittsburgh Pirates (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020): 26.
2 Wright Thompson, “Why Isn’t This Man Smiling?,” ESPN.com The Magazine, October 2006, http://www.espn.com/espn/eticket/story?page=leyland&redirected=truearticle Accessed July 11, 2022
3 Thompson, “Why Isn’t This Man Smiling?”
4 At the end of the 2022 season, Leyland ranked 18th on the all-time wins list of major league managers.
5 Leyland’s father James was one of 16 children. The family was of Irish descent.
6 Thompson, “Why Isn’t This Man Smiling?”
7 Ron Musselman, “Tigers’ new manager has always been a leader,” The Blade. March 12, 2006. https://www.toledoblade.com/sports/pro/2006/03/12/Tigers-new-manager-has-always-been-a-leader/stories/200603120038 Accessed July 22, 2022.
8 Donald Emmons, “Leyland and Glanville among 6 entering Perrysburg Hall of Fame,” The Blade. January 11, 2007. https://www.toledoblade.com/sports/high-school/2007/01/11/Sidelines-Leyland-and-Glanville-among-6-entering-Perrysburg-hall-of-fame/stories/200701110004 Accessed July 12, 2022. Jerry Glanville, who gained fame as an NFL coach, graduated from Perrysburg High in 1959, three years ahead of Leyland. Leyland earned all-league honors at quarterback his senior year.
9 Jason Mackey, “‘Genius of Jim’: The Stories Behind Perrysburg Native Jim Leyland’s Legacy,” Block News Alliance, December 13, 2021. https://www.toledoblade.com/sports/pro/2021/12/12/jim-leyland-baseball-coach-perrysburg-native/stories/20211210120 Accessed July 12, 2022. Leyland later donated $100,000 to help Perrysburg High School build a new baseball field. The field was re-named Jim Leyland Field in 1992.
10 Joe Vardon “It’s ‘Our Team, Our Boy’ in Leyland’s Hometown; World Series Manager is Hero in Perrysburg,” The Blade. October 24, 2006. https://www.toledoblade.com/frontpage/2006/10/24/It-s-our-team-our-boy-in-Leyland-s-hometown-World-Series-manager-is-a-hero-in-Perrysburg.html Accessed July 12, 2022.
11 Musselman, “Tigers’ new manager has always been a leader.”
12 Musselman, “Tigers’ new manager has always been a leader.”
13 Cody Stavenhagen and Rod Biertempfel “Bonds, Heaters and Crying on Cue: The Lost F-ing stories of Jim Leyland,” The Athletic. November 27, 2020. https://theathletic.com/2217382/2020/11/27/jim-leyland-tigers-pirates/ Accessed October 25, 2022. In the minors, Leyland’s teammates nicknamed him “Hump” because of his love of music by Engelbert Humperdinck. Leyland once said that if he hadn’t had a career in baseball, he would have liked to have been in a band.
14 Bob Hertzel, “One on One with Jim Leyland,” Pittsburgh Press, April 11, 1989.
15 Jerry Crasnick, “The Brains of the Game,” Denver Post. April 21, 1997.
16 “Leyland gets his wish: two more years in Motown,” ESPN.com. October 2, 2007.
17 David Leon Moore, “Friends through the battle,” USA Today. October 24, 2006.
18 Peterson, The Slide. 23. It turned out to be a good decision for the Astros, as Lanier was named NL Manager of the Year in 1986.
19 Bob Smizik, “Leyland Gets the Call from the Pirates,” Pittsburgh Press. November 21, 1985.
20 Jerome Holtzman, “Pirates Pluck Leyland,” Chicago Tribune. November 21, 1985.
21 Ron Cook “Arrested Once, Leyland Quit Drinking,” Pittsburgh Press. December 9, 1986. Leyland said his drinking problems got worse when he was playing in the minors and escalated once he began coaching. He stopped drinking on July 10, 1985.
22 David Roth. ”Jim Leyland, the most interesting man in the (baseball) world,” SBnation.com, October 21, 2013. https://www.sbnation.com/2013/10/21/4862402/jim-leyland-retires-career-highlights-video-smoking. Accessed December 12, 2022. Leyland was asked about his smoking habit while being interviewed by Chris Myers on ESPN. After telling Myers how smoking is a bad habit and children shouldn’t start doing it, he looked at the camera and said, ”Still, smokers out there, you know what I’m talking about. That moment after you’ve had a huge meal, say at Thanksgiving, when you step outside in the cold, light up a cigarette, and take a deep inhale . . . that’s about the best moment in the world, you know? All the smokers out there, you know that feeling, Sometimes smoking is fantastic.” Myers quickly cut to a commercial and never had Leyland on his show again.
23 Gene Collier, “Barry Bonds, Dodging Shadows, Chasing Dreams,” Pittsburgh Press, Sunday Magazine. June 20, 1987.
24 “Celebrating Our Previous Pittsburghers of the Year,” Pittsburgh Magazine.com. September 16, 2021. https://www.pittsburghmagazine.com/celebrating-our-previous-pittsburghers-of-the-year/ Accessed October 31, 2022.
25 Pau Meyer, “Bucs Retain Leyland, Thrift for next season,” Pittsburgh Press. October 2, 1987.
26 Stavenhagen and Biertempfel, “Bonds, Heaters and Crying on Cue: The Lost F-ing stories of Jim Leyland.”
28 William Zinser, Spring Training. (New York: Harper & Row, 1989): 60.
29 Bob Hertzel, “Pirates’ Leyland Gets a Deserved Reward,” The Sporting News. October 10, 1988.
30 Peterson, The Slide: 45.
31 Peterson, The Slide: 67.
32 “Dapper Dan History,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.com. October 31, 2022. https://www.pittsburghmagazine.com/celebrating-our-previous-pittsburghers-of-the-year/ Accessed October 31, 2022.
33 Tom Barnidge, “Rest of the World Learning the Truth About Leyland,” The Sporting News, October 15, 1990.
34 Bob Hertzel, “Leyland, Virdon Exchange Angry Words with Bonds,” Pittsburgh Press, March 4, 1991.
35 Peterson, The Slide. 75.
36 Dan Hafner “Pirates win to Clinch NL East Title,” Los Angeles Times, September. 23, 1991.
37 While outfielders Bonds and Van Slyke were Gold Glove winners in 1991, catcher Mike LaValliere had won the award in 1987 and second baseman Jose Lind and shortstop Jay Bell would win them in later seasons.
38 Bonds was 0-for-16 with runners on base in the NLCS.
39 Bob Hertzel, “Feeling Left Out, Leyland Confronts His Bosses,” Pittsburgh Press, March 21, 1992.
40 One reason the Pirates were an underdog was due to Leyland’s decision not to let one of his top starters, Zane Smith, pitch in the NLCS. Smith had injured his shoulder late in the season, taken injections and proclaimed himself ready to pitch. But Leyland said he didn’t want to jeopardize Smith’s long-term health. The Slide. 144.
41 Chuck Johnson, “Pirates skipper lands NL Award,” USA Today, October 29, 1992.
42 Gordon Edes, “Tribute to Leyland at All-Star Game,” South Florida Sun Sentinel, July 17, 1994. https://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/fl-xpm-1994-07-17-9407160247-story.html Accessed October 21, 2022. One of the lone highlights for the Pirates during that stretch was the 1994 All-Star Game, which was held at Three Rivers Stadium. The sell-out crowd lustily booed Bonds, who was now playing for San Francisco, while Leyland, one of the NL’s coaches, received a standing ovation.
43 Paul Meyer, “Manager Laments Plight of Team, Fans,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 21, 1995.
44 John Perrotto, “Leyland Bids Farewell to Pittsburgh,” Beaver Valley Times, September 18, 1996. Leyland still had four years left on his contract, but he claimed to have a handshake deal with the previous owners that he could move on if the team decided to rebuild.
45 Dave Rosenbaum, If They Don’t Win It’s a Shame: The Year the Marlins Brought the World Series (Tampa. McGregor Publishing. 1998): 53.
46 Rosenbaum, If They Don’t Win It’s a Shame: 4-5. Leyland had been offered the Marlins’ position in 1991, the team’s first year of existence, but decided to remain in Pittsburgh.
47 Rosenbaum, If They Don’t Win It’s a Shame: 6.
48 Jerry Crasnick, “The Brains of the Game,” Denver Post, April 21, 1997.
49 Rosenbaum, If They Don’t Win It’s a Shame: 62-63. Leyland’s full quote was, “The ruination of this country was the women’s liberation movement. We’ve lost the family tradition in this country, and that’s the problem with this country. There’s no more family tradition. When I was a kid, my mother was always home, but then women had to start going off to work. I like it when a man takes a woman out to dinner, holds the door for her, and pays. I don’t like when she’s smoking a cigar and paying half.”
50 Rosenbaum, If They Don’t Win It’s a Shame: 90-92. Leyland had purchased a house in Florida for $650,000 shortly before Huizenga’s announcement. Leyland then asked for and received an escape clause allowing him to get out of his contract if Huizenga sold the team. Huizenga, meanwhile, offered to buy the house that Leyland had just purchased.
51 Rosenbaum, If They Don’t Win It’s a Shame: 221-223. Before the first game of the NLCS, Leyland told his team the goal was to win the World Series. “Look at the back of my jersey. Eleven. That’s how many games we’re going to win,” he said.
52 Rosenbaum, If They Don’t Win It’s a Shame: 261. The morning after Game Five, many of the sportswriters covering the series saw a man matching Brown’s description board their commercial flight to Atlanta. That afternoon, Leyland told the press that Brown had flown with the team to Atlanta the night before. The Marlins later announced that he wasn’t on the team flight that evening, something which neither Leyland nor Dombrowski had known. The official explanation was that Brown had not brought his bags to the ballpark that night, not realizing the team was traveling to Atlanta after the game. The traveling secretary, Bill Beck, told him to go home and catch a flight the next day, but never passed that information on to Leyland.
53 Rosenbaum, If They Don’t Win It’s a Shame: 290.
54 Dan Shaughnessy, “The Mistake at the Jake,” Miami Herald. October 23, 1997: 243.
55 Mark Kiszla, “Passionate Man the Last of a Breed,” Denver Post, October 27, 1997: C-01.
56 Thompson, “Why Isn’t This Man Smiling?”
57 Associated Press, “Leyland Resigns; Rockies Want Him,” New York Post, October 2, 1998.
58 Thompson, “Why Isn’t This Man Smiling?”
59 Associated Press, “Phillies to Meet with Leyland,” Boston Globe, October 27, 2004. http://archive.boston.com/sports/baseball/articles/2004/10/27/phillies_to_meet_with_leyland/ Accessed August 9, 2022.
60 Stavenhagen and Biertempfel, “Bonds, heaters and crying on cue: the lost f-ing stories of Jim Leyland.”
61 Mitch Albom, “Former Tigers manager Jim Leyland reflects on long career in exit interview,” Detroit Free Press. November 11, 2013.
62 Albom, “Former Tigers manager Jim Leyland reflects on long career in exit interview.”
63 Albom, “Former Tigers manager Jim Leyland reflects on long career in exit interview.”
64 Tom Gage, “Tigers extend Leyland’s deal by two years,” Detroit News, June 20, 2009.
65 George A. King III, “Leyland: Tigers were ‘embarrassed’ in 2012 World Series,” New York Post, October 11, 2013. https://nypost.com/2013/10/11/leyland-tigers-were-embarrassed-in-2012-world-series/ Accessed August 13, 2022.
66 Kurt Mensching, “Jim Leyland on ALCS loss: ‘This one hurt bad,’” SB Nation, October 21, 2013. https://www.blessyouboys.com/2013/10/21/4862616/jim-leyland-resignations-world-series Accessed August 13, 2022.
67 “Tigers’ Jim Leyland Steps Down,” ESPN.com, October 21, 2013.
68 Albom, “Former Tigers manager Jim Leyland reflects on long career in exit interview.”