Pueblo must be where they train those Post "sportswriters"

October 18, 2006. While surfing the Internet, we ran across this article by a "writer" for the Pueblo Chieftain, which may or may not be an actual newspaper in Pueblo, Colorado. The Author, a Mr. Mike Spence, apparently has a grudge against former Rockies' manager Jim Leyland. Worse yet, Mr. Spence seems to have a total disdain for the facts and reason itself. As usual, the Baseball Observer is here to provide the real story.

Mr. Spence's "article" The Baseball Observer's observations
Leyland doesn't deserve credit he's receiving Yes, he does.
Baseball fans in Detroit are no doubt anointing Jim Leyland as the greatest manager in history after leading the once woeful Tigers to the World Series.

I beg to differ.

To me, Leyland will always be a quitter.
The problem here is that nothing that follows in Mr. Spence's article gives any reason why Leyland doesn't deserve all of the accolades he is getting for the wonderful job he did with Detroit. He doesn't support his premise and basically exhibits his own bitterness with this senseless and irresponsible piece.
I base my impression on the one season Leyland spent with the Colorado Rockies. Leyland has a World Series Championship, an NL Pennant, 3 Division Titles, and 2 Major League Manager of the Year Awards under his belt, but Mr. Spence prefers to judge him based on one atypical year fraught with extraordinary circumstances. Good job!
The Rockies thought they had made the find of the century in 1999 when they signed Leyland to a two-year contract worth $8 million. Maybe, but they thought the same thing when they hired Don Baylor, arguably the worst manager in baseball history, in 1993. By the way, according to the Rocky Mountain News, it was a 3 year, $6 million dollar contract. Another good job!
Colorado's front office believed it was getting a manager who would lead a team that had gone 77-85 the year before to the playoffs. They finished 21 games out of first in 1998. Then the front office traded Ellis Burks for Daryl Hamilton (who?), along with several other boneheaded moves. Some people, like most of the Denver Post "writers", say a manager has little effect on the team's record - it's all about the players. If that is true, Leyland, who had no say in which players were on the roster, couldn't be blamed. The front office was delusional if they thought a manager could turn the clueless Rockies around.
Instead, Leyland produced one of the worst seasons in Colorado franchise history. The Rockies finished the 1999 season 72-90. Up to that time, the record was the team's worst record since its first two seasons as an expansion franchise. Let's see, they had two 67-95, a 68-94 season, so it was one of the worst, but a long way from the worst. Again, Leyland couldn't and didn't do it alone, in fact most of the blame belongs on Gebhardt
Leyland was burned out when he signed with the Rockies. Once he got to Colorado, he quickly saw there was little talent and that his style of baseball wouldn't fit at Coors Field. Or, in the words of Mark Kiszla in today's (10/22/2006) Denver Post: "Years ago, Leyland conclusively proved he had undeniable insight into baseball by telling the Rockies $4 million was not sufficient compensation for the aggravation of managing a franchise without a clue, and saw the futility years before the rest of us in Colorado". Leyland was burned out after spending time with the Rockies, not before.
So, basically, he threw in the towel. Oh, he filled out lineup cards every day. But that's about it. He finished out the season and walked away from the second year of his contract. Anyone who attended Rockies games in 1999 knows how wrong Mr. Spence's "threw in the towel" statement is. For the only time in Rockies history, the manager made correct moves and didn't throw away dozens of games making stupid ones. It was the most enjoyable Rockies season ever for the Baseball Observer, because real baseball was being seen for a change. It never happened before or since.
Rockies officials should have known early on Leyland wasn't committed to the team. He never bothered to rent an apartment, much less buy a home in the Denver area. Instead, he slept on a cot at Coors Field throughout the season. In retrospect, the Rockies should have charged him rent. He worked harder then any other Rockies manager, he should have charged them for all the overtime.
While Leyland's baseball acumen created no glowing memories, the Denver party crowd remembers him from the many nights he spent singing at LoDo's karaoke bars. The Baseball Observer, along with thousands of other true baseball fans have glowing memories of the Leyland Rockies, and we know that he would have done the same thing here that he did in Detroit, given the time and control that he needed. Instead, the Rockies hired O'Dowd - which probably played a large part in Leyland's leaving. O'Dowd only knows how to lose, yet it was clear that he would be making all of the decisions, not Leyland, a proven winner.
People still make excuses for Leyland saying that he became discouraged with baseball at Denver's mile-high altitude. I just don't buy it. Mr. Spence doesn't buy it because he has total disregard for the facts. Perhaps the Monforts own the Chieftan. Leyland was hamstrung by the lousy Rockies management, and everyone knows it except Mr. Spence, apparently.
Everyone, you, me, any working Joe, gets discouraged at work at times. But we still try to do a good job. We still put in the effort every day. And we do it for much less than the millions Leyland was being paid. Actually, most people find another job and leave when they know they are going to be prevented from succeeding. Just like Leyland did.
Think how you feel about the freeloaders at your workplace. We all see them every day. You know, the ones who put more effort in avoiding work than doing any. The man or woman whose's only accomplishment each week is picking up a paycheck. Do you respect them? Do you make excuses for them? Does it bother you that those individuals somehow think they're entitled to a paycheck?

To me, Leyland was that kind of employee when he managed the Rockies.

Mr. Spence is going off the deep end with this one. Apparently he has some issues with fellow employees at the Chieftain. Leyland could have picked up all or part of the $4 million or more he left on the table by just hanging around. But he didn't. Instead, he stuck out the year under the worst of circumstances, then did the honorable thing and resigned.

Check out the article by Ron Cook in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, reproduced below.

His performance didn't go unnoticed by baseball officials, either. It took him until this season to rehabilitate his image. The Phillies passed on him a couple of years ago; a rejection that truly pained Leyland. If Mr. Spence had been reading the news, he would probably know how much the Phillies and the Pirates regret their decisions, and that both have said they had nothing to do with his performance with Colorado. They know what the situation was and is with the Rockies, while Mr. Spence doesn't.
Sure, Leyland made all the right moves this season. But look at the Tigers. They've got loads of talent. Their pitchers are solid. Their offense is exciting. In short, Leyland walked into a great situation. This is just bull. Most baseball experts are simply astounded with what Leyland accomplished with little money and talent.
He did the same thing in Pittsburgh, where he had Barry Bonds in his prime. The same thing happened in Florida where he had Ivan Rodriguez (who now plays for Detroit) on his roster to spark an already impressive offense. See above. Barry Bonds was not the even as good as he was when he left the Pirates, and how many championships have the Giants won? Leyland is famous for getting the most out of teams with mediocre talent. The exception was the Marlins championship team which was an expensive team of superstars, one of the least of which was Ivan.
Leyland's proven that he can lead a talented team to the playoffs. However, when given the chance to lift a not-so-talented Rockies team to respectability, Leyland flunked the test. Again, most of Leyland's successes were with teams not blessed with great talent, much like the Detroit Tigers of 2006. You can look it up. Mr. Spence apparently didn't have the time.
Mike Spence is a sports writer for The Pueblo Chieftain. He can be reached at 719-544-3520 or by e-mail at mspence@chieftain.com No comment.
   
Cook: A special manager has his team at a special place
Saturday, October 21, 2006

By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette



By next weekend, if things go as expected and Detroit beats St. Louis in the World Series that starts tonight at Detroit's Comerica Park, the baseball world will know what Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and at least one of us here figured out a long time ago.

"Jim Leyland," La Russa said several years back, "is the most perfect baseball manager I've ever been around."

One of the best of all time, too.

Even Leyland's most stubborn critics, who always will hold a misguided grudge against him because he left the Pirates a decade ago, will have to recognize his special place in the game if his Tigers take out the Cardinals. A lot of managers have won a World Series -- somebody does every season -- but only 21 have won two or more championships. Leyland would be No. 22. That would separate him from five of the 16 managers in the Hall of Fame and from three of the top nine managers with the most wins, including La Russa .

Leyland and La Russa -- best friends since Leyland was La Russa's third-base coach with the Chicago White Sox from 1982-85 -- also are chasing an even rarer piece of baseball history. One will join Sparky Anderson as the only managers to win a World Series in both the American and National Leagues. Leyland won with the 1997 Florida Marlins, La Russa the '89 Oakland Athletics.

When told this week about what's at stake, Leyland's reaction was typically blunt and profane.

"I don't care about any of that [stuff]. I just want to win the World Series. I don't care if it puts me in a special place in the record books. I just want my team to be the champions of 2006."

Absolutely no one expected Leyland and the Tigers to be in this position this quickly. The team had been almost Pirates-like, losing 91 games last season, its 12th consecutive losing season. Even Leyland said he would have been thrilled if the Tigers had finished a game or two over .500. "I was thinking we would get in there and professionalize 'em, show 'em the right way to go about their business and take our shot next year."

Maybe it happened faster than anyone imagined, but you just knew Leyland was going to be successful with the Tigers. He performed a similar resurrection with the Pirates, taking over a team that lost 104 games in 1985 and leading it to its only four winning seasons in the past 23 years, including three consecutive division championships in the early 1990s. It's sad to think he'd probably still be here if Kevin McClatchy hadn't traded his team out from under him in '96.

It's not just Leyland's phenomenal grip on the intricacies of baseball strategy that makes him so good, although you could go a whole season and not question more than two of his moves. It's the way he works his clubhouse. He makes it a point to speak to every player every day. Usually, it's just a passing word -- obscene and humorous, no doubt -- as he makes his way around the field during batting practice, fungo bat in hand. But when a more in-depth conversation is needed -- either as a supportive pat on the back or a motivating kick in the rear -- he's there to provide that, too. Early this season, he tore into one of his players in front of the rest of the team after he felt the player showed up third base coach Gene Lamont.

Does that remind you of Leyland's blowup with Barry Bonds in the spring of '91 or what?

"I really didn't do anything different from what I did in Pittsburgh," Leyland said. "I just told 'em, 'I don't have all the answers, but I know the right way to do things. If you don't like it, go somewhere else ...'

"What did I have to lose? What were they going to do? Fire me and send me home with the kids? That wouldn't be such a bad thing, would it?"

Like always, Leyland found the right message for his team at the right time.

After an early season loss in which Leyland felt his players went through the motions, he lit into them. "I never ask 'em to win. I only ask that they prepare to win."

After another early loss when the players were hanging their heads, Leyland lit into them again in a much different way. "All that feeling sorry for themselves only showed me they were a losing team. Winners know they're going to win tomorrow."

After the Tigers limped to the regular-season finish line by going 19-31, Leyland was a source of strength. "We're no fluke team. We ended up winning two less games than the New York Yankees."

After the Tigers were beaten by the powerful Yankees in Game 1 of their divisional playoff series and were written off by everybody, Leyland was defiant. "It's not like we brought the junior varsity."

The Tigers haven't lost since, stunning the Yankees and sweeping the Athletics, winning seven consecutive games, the past six by three or more runs.

The man has some touch.

Leyland's players know it and showed it by carrying him off the field after they beat the Yankees, something that's hardly ever done in baseball. Then again, if memory serves, the Pirates also carried Leyland off after those three division titles.

This is a special man, a special manager.

How much different Leyland must have felt on his players' shoulders at Comerica Park than he did on the day in '99 when he announced he was quitting as the Colorado Rockies' manager after just one season. He wasn't himself then, had burned out on the job and felt like he was stealing money.

How the critics harped then. They pointed out how Leyland bailed on the Rockies just as he had the Marlins and Pirates. What they never mentioned and still don't is how McClatchy encouraged Leyland to leave Pittsburgh and take his $1 million salary with him, how Leyland stayed with the Marlins through a 54-108 season in '98 after management had cut payroll to the bare bone and how he left behind $4.5 million when he walked in Colorado.

"I'm no jumper," Leyland once said, a fact supported by the 18 years he spent in the Tigers' minor-league system and the 11 seasons he spent with the Pirates.

But that's a fight Leyland never will win. He accepted that long ago. "My career is what it is. I don't care what anyone else thinks." What he couldn't come to peace with was the way he left the game as a manager. He kept trying to tell himself and everyone else that he was happy as a scout -- "If I manage anything again, it will be a K-mart," he said as recently as the summer of '04 -- but you had the sense he didn't really believe it.

"I didn't want to go out that way," Leyland said this week. "I was embarrassed by what happened in Colorado. It killed me.

"I needed to come back for me."

Leyland was hurt when the Philadelphia Phillies didn't hire him after the '04 season, then hurt again when the Pirates didn't consider him after the '05 season. It's safe to say the Phillies' and Pirates' loss is the Tigers' gain. Detroit's team is just four wins away from completing one of sports' all-time great success stories.

"It's all because of the players," Leyland said.

Hardly.