The Detroit Tigers signed Jim Leyland as a catcher in 1963. Leyland played in the minor leagues for seven seasons before moving into coaching. The career minor leaguer spent the next decade earning his stripes in the minors before joining Tony LaRussa’s staff in Chicago. Eventually, Leyland managed in Pittsburgh, Florida, and Colorado before coming home. The skipper transformed the culture in Detroit and made the Tigers perennial contenders.
Jim Leyland batted .222 in seven minor league campaigns. He realized that he was just not good enough to play in the majors. As a result, he turned to coaching in 1970. The career minor leaguer remained within the Tiger organization for nearly 20 years. He helped groom players such as Kirk Gibson, who later led the Tigers to the 1984 World Series.
Tony LaRussa hired Leyland away from Detroit to serve as the Chicago White Sox third base coach for four years. During that period, the White Sox won the 1983 AL West, but lost to the Orioles in the American League Championship Series (ALCS). The Pittsburgh Pirates snatched Leyland away from the Sox in November 1985. The Pirates were a reclamation project. The team won the 1979 World Series and collapsed. They lost 104 games in 1985 and boasted a 19-game loser. Leyland spent 11 seasons in Pittsburgh, won three division crowns, and developed Barry Bonds, Andy Van Slyke, and Tim Wakefield. The Pirates lost three straight NLCS from 1990-92 while Leyland won two NL Manager of the Year trophies. Ownership dismantled the team over economic issues and the Pirates did not experience another winning season until 2013.
Leyland moved from the deconstructed Pirates to the Florida Marlins in 1997. They won 92 games, the NL Wild Card, and the World Series in seven games over Cleveland. Once again, management blew up a Leyland-led team. The 1998 Marlins were a completely different squad and lost 108 games. Leyland moved to a sorry Colorado team, but left after one season. He scouted for the Cardinals for a time before the Tigers called.
The Detroit Tigers went 85-77 in 1993 and did not have another winning season until 2006. They lost over 100 games on three occasions and topped 90 losses eight times in that stretch. Leyland inherited a 91 loss squad when he became manager in 2006. Under the new skipper, the Tigers experienced a complete turnaround and won the pennant. Leyland exploded at the team’s lackadaisical work ethic in early April and the Tigers responded. He became the seventh manager to win pennants in both leagues and won his third Manager of the Year award. Unfortunately, the Tigers lost the World Series to Tony LaRussa’s Cardinals in five games.
The Tigers did not return to the postseason again until 2011. Injuries to the pitching staff limited Detroit to 88 wins in 2007. Afterward, they won 74, 86, and 81 games. In 2009, the team blew a three game lead with four games to play and finished in second to the Minnesota Twins. Detroit lost one of the most exciting games in franchise history to the Twins to lose the division crown in Game 163.
The Tigers gelled for Leyland two years after the Game 163 disappointment. They won 95 games, MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander had the greatest pitching season since 2000, and the Tigers appeared in the ALCS once more. They lost to a superior Texas Rangers squad, but returned to win the pennant in 2012. Miguel Cabrera won the Triple Crown and Detroit’s second straight MVP. However, the Tigers lost the World Series in an upset. Since 1985, teams that sweep the LCS have a 1-5 record in the World Series. Detroit swept the A’s in 2006 and the Yankees in 2012.
In 2013, Detroit made its third consecutive playoff appearance for the first time since 1907-1909. Max Scherzer and Miguel Cabrera led the Tigers, who bested Oakland again in the playoffs. However, a debilitating groin injury to Cabrera and weak bullpen blew the ALCS to Boston. The Tigers should have won that series, but failed. The skipper stepped down at season’s end, but will remained with the club in another capacity. Leyland cited his age as the reason for his resignation.
Jim Leyland and Tony LaRussa are the only men to lead two franchises to three consecutive division titles. Leyland is third on the Tigers all-time wins list with 700 victories Only Sparky Anderson (1,331) and Hughie Jennings (1,131) have more victories and managed more games. Leyland managed 1,297 games and is sixth in win percentage (.540) amongst managers that have served at least one full season.The skipper won the 2006 Manager of the Year with Detroit, made four postseason appearances, and won two pennants in eight seasons. Few managers have accomplished as much. Jim Leyland retired as one of the most successful managers in Tiger history.