Right now, even if this team managed to steal a World Series, it seems unlikely Jim Leyland would pack it in. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)
Oakland, Calif. ó I donít know how long Jim Leyland will stick as Tigers manager. But a man who turns 69 in December is reaching for his car keys. Heís getting ready to go.
That could mean another year with the Tigers, at which time Leyland would be within weeks of 70. It might mean two more seasons, which more likely would sate a man and a manager who loves his job.
Or, he might be here for an indefinite stretch. But I would doubt it, seriously. One or two more years is the guess, even if the Tigers squeeze a world championship out of this autumnís playoffs mystery, which began Friday against the Aís at O.co Coliseum.
Leyland will want to end his happiest chapter as a manager, his years in Detroit, on the best possible note. He will try to be fair to the team and himself.
He is objective enough about himself to know that as long as he loves his job and has his health and energy, he is as good as the Tigers can have in the managerís office. Lots of fans will scream, but itís true. You canít do better than Leyland as a manager, and almost any team in baseball will tell you the same.
But he also knows you can stay too long. Players can hang on past the expiration date. And so can managers. He knew a year ago he was close to the threshold there. The Tigers, prior to closing out September with a division-winning surge, were in trouble, and so was the skipper.
Their late comeback and toppling of the White Sox kept Leyland in his job and sent the Tigers to the World Series. It ensured Terry Francona would be managing the Indians in 2013, and not the team he had most hoped to lead if his friend Leyland was no longer around ó Detroit.
Recharged and ready
Leyland has been revitalized by his time in Detroit. He did the hard thing 14 years ago when he admitted he was burned out by managing and left Colorado and a few million dollars on the table.
He wanted to be at home with his wife and then-small children. He wanted time to be a person. But after six years away, he was even more ready to manage, especially if the team he adored, the Tigers, happened to call.
His boss during their days with the Marlins, Dave Dombrowski, was on the phone and got his answer during a dinner at the Capital Grille in Troy. Leyland was recharged and ready.
He has teamed with Dombrowski to make this the best stretch of sustained baseball quality in Tigers history. The team has won. The stars have flourished. The crowds have been lusty. The franchise has never had a higher profile.
They still lack a world championship. And, as you scrutinize a team that entered Friday with an ailing superstar in Miguel Cabrera, itís a percentage bet Dombrowski and Leyland will never win one here. But the in-season and year-round phenomenon of the Tigers and their hold on Detroit and Michigan is compelling. Itís a reality owner Mike Ilitch financed, Dombrowski constructed, and Leyland has overseen.
Throw in the simple fact Leyland loves managing, and he is in no hurry to drive home to Pittsburgh for a baseball-flavored retirement.
Not ready to go
Itís the other point that makes you wonder when Leyland might decide enough is enough. He will not pull a Joe Paterno and decide that as long as he likes his job he will hang around, in perpetuity. He understands 70 is 70. His best friend in baseball, Tony La Russa, called it quits when he was 67. La Russa got no more or less from his job than Leyland and it would be difficult to imagine two men of shared spirit not sharing in reasonable fashion the same thoughts on retirement age.
But right now, even if this team managed to steal a World Series, it seems unlikely Leyland would pack it in.
His health is cooperating. His love for baseball and for managing the Tigers is obvious. He probably stays for another season, maybe two, if wife Katie says: Go for it.