Last week, Tigers manager Jim Leyland refused to discuss Jhonny Peralta's suspension. (Elizabeth Conley / Detroit News)
Detroit — Jim Leyland seemed fatigued Thursday, probably more because of another battery of media questioners who greeted him in the Tigers manager’s office at Comerica Park.
Leyland lay on a sofa, blanket tucked loosely over his legs. This is his posture on some days, mostly because big-league baseball tires out everyone. He looked and sounded as if he would prefer changing a tire on his Jaguar than to chew on subjects he talks about regularly for the benefit of media members and fans.
He had a right to be weary. The big-league season runs a minimum of eight months, February until October. A couple of times a week, day games are scheduled after night games. Days are long. Nights are short. Travel is a blow to the body, no matter if you are 28 or, as he is, 68.
But, unless someone’s mistaken, the fatigue these days is more than physical. He appears tired of questions, particularly the delicate ones.
Last week, he refused to discuss Jhonny Peralta’s suspension, even if it would have been helpful to have heard from a manager the ways in which Peralta’s departure might affect a team that had counted on Peralta at shortstop for the past 500 games.
Leyland was so driven to not talk about the suspension that, after he was asked for thoughts about a key player’s departure, he ordered media out of his office in Cleveland. The question came a few minutes after general manager Dave Dombrowski had spoken at length about Peralta and, to be fair, the Tigers had issued a statement saying there would be no further comment once Dombrowski had spoken as the Tigers’ chief executive.
The 90-second news conference in Cleveland was applauded by media-irritated fans. But it wasn’t necessary and it wasn’t in line with a man of Leyland’s status. Other managers who lost players for their roles in baseball’s Biogenesis investigation of performance-enhancing drugs seemed to handle the questions without undue stress. Leyland was capable of the same, minus any overlap with legal issues or whatever trap door he didn’t care to confront.
He had the same stance during the Yankees series in New York. And you could appreciate why he had zero to say about Alex Rodriguez.
It wasn’t his player. It wasn’t his issue.
Where it went too far was when Pedro Gomez of ESPN — a very good reporter and professional — began to ask Leyland about A-Rod in the context of Miguel Cabrera and their respective places as history-making third basemen. It was a proper question from a thoughtful journalist, and yet Gomez never was able to even finish his sentence.
He was chopped off and told by the manager, very firmly, there would be no A-Rod questions or answers.
Is this disposition, which on some days has been more like a simmering, relevant to a team and its push for a playoff ticket?
What counts is Leyland’s relationship with his players, his communication with his bosses, and his focus on games. He passes all tests there impeccably, whether it’s a March day in Florida or Game 120 in August.
He also is, with rare exceptions, superb in his media duties, which is basically his dialogue with the customer base. And even reporters would agree this is not the most thrilling part of a work shift.
He talks with the media for 20 or 25 minutes 3˝ hours before the start of each game, answering questions about that night’s lineup, injuries, what makes Cabrera such a good hitter (a frequent out-of-town request), etc. It can get repetitive. It can get irksome. And yet Leyland understands this is an important part of a manager’s duties and he does it, generally, with cordiality.
He then has to deal with the same chore after the game, beginning with Fox Sports Detroit’s interviews. It takes energy and patience. And, to Leyland’s credit, he can be very good, particularly during conversations after the television interview has ceased.
What’s bothersome about last week’s shutdowns, or this week’s obvious fatigue, is it could suggest he is getting his fill of the job’s flip side. And if that is the case — particularly if sensitive matters are going to be shunned — then how long before he, in concert with his bosses, decides it’s time to leave a post he has, for the past seven years, openly and infectiously adored?