PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Anyone who has spent time with Jim Leyland could have predicted his response.
“I don’t think about any of that stuff,” the Detroit Tigers manager said at Tradition Field where his team was taking batting practice before its Grapefruit League game against the New York Mets. “That’s for someone else to think about.”
Someone else has.
Someday, when Leyland is done in Detroit — at age 68, about to embark on his 22nd season as a major league manager, he has no plans to retire — many others will. They will look back on his career and contemplate the question: Was Leyland a Hall of Fame manager?
Already, he has given them plenty to ponder, from his rousing run in Pittsburgh to his championship chase in Miami to his successful second act in Motown.
“Do I think he’s a Hall of Famer? Sure, I do,” said Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski. “He’s 15th on the all-time wins list. He’s won a world championship, multiple pennants, a bunch of division titles. He’s been the Manager of the Year in both leagues.”
Leyland won three consecutive division titles in Pittsburgh, guiding the talented-but-young Pirates to the NLCS in 1990, 1991 and 1992, losing to the Atlanta Braves twice in seven games. He was voted NL Manager of the Year in 1990 and 1992 and was the runner-up for the award in 1988 and 1991.
The Pirates haven’t had a winning season since.
Leyland then spent two polar-opposite seasons in Florida, where he managed the wild-card Marlins to a dramatic, seven-game, World Series triumph in 1997, only to see team owner Wayne Huizenga dump salaries and dismantle his high-priced roster in the weeks that followed.
The Marlins lost 108 games in 1998.
So Leyland bolted for a big-money offer from the Colorado Rockies. But he departed Denver after one season, frustrated by the pre-humidor craziness of games at Coors Field where major league baseball too often resembled beer-league softball.
He didn’t manage again until 2006, when Dombrowski brought him to Detroit — back to the organization in which Leyland spent seven years as a minor league catcher before becoming a coach — and it has been a happy homecoming.
Leyland’s Tigers have played their way to October three times in seven seasons, winning division titles the past two years and AL pennants in 2006 and 2012. And he is managing another playoff-caliber team this season.
“It’s been absolutely wonderful,” Leyland said. “When you are a backup catcher in Double-A and a .222 lifetime minor league hitter, and you end up managing teams that went to a World Series, won a World Series, managing All-Star games — what else can you do? And I’ve been compensated pretty well. So when I’m done, I’ll be happy with my career.”
He would enjoy Cooperstown, too.
If he thought about it.
“That,” he said, “is for someone else to decide.”