Detroit — Dave Dombrowski was having coffee in Kansas City when the call came.
“Can I come up to see you?” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
“Sure,” said Dombrowski, not knowing why and a bit puzzled about the reason.
It was Sept. 7. The Tigers had just beaten the Royals. Everything seemed fine.
And with the team, everything was fine.
But the manager was wearing down. The ticker was strong, as were the Marlboro’ed lungs. But the energy level wasn’t.
With the travel, daily media responsibilities and wear-and-tear, the 68-year-old Leyland had made up his mind.
He always said he would know it when it was time.
“And it was time.”
That’s what he told Dombrowski over coffee. But they kept it to themselves, or as close to themselves as they could.
“I didn’t even tell my trusted lieutenants,” Dombrowski said.
Two hours before the official announcement, though, the immensity of they’d been protecting leaked out.
Leyland retired Monday, and it wasn’t as emotional as you might have thought it would have been. There were times Leyland’s voice broke. But there weren’t times he just plain lost it.
It was just Dombrowski and Leyland in front of the media, one saying good bye as a manager while accepting another undetermined position within the organization, the other answering questions about the search to come.
No one had seen it coming until the day it happened. There’d never even been any hints that it might.
“I’ve never been a guy to just take a paycheck,” Leyland said. “It would have been totally selfish on my part. I would have been coming back for the wrong reasons.”
On second thought, maybe there was one hint.
It had been strange in Boston that after the loss in Game 6 that eliminated Detroit from the American League Championship Series, the players’ kids were asked to leave the clubhouse.
What was happening inside was more than the usual “thanks for the effort” session.
It was Leyland telling the players he was done. But they too, kept it quiet. Not even the talkative Torii Hunter said anything about it being the skipper’s last game.
“When I told them, I didn’t know how to take it when they clapped,” Leyland joked. “Actually, you could hear a pin drop.”
Then it finally became common knowledge Monday morning, a stunning development because there’d been at least a couple occasions during the season in which Leyland talked about returning.
And his intention to manage as long as possible.
But halfway through the season, he said, despite still loving the competition and being in the dugout, the parts of the job that did not involve being in the dugout began to take a toll.
“Probably in June, I began thinking this was getting a little rough,” Leyland said. “I thought like the fuel was getting a little low.
“But I knew I’d get through it because I knew we’d be playing for something. I knew we’d be in the hunt.”
Of Leyland’s eight teams with the Tigers, four reached the postseason, and two made it to the World Series.
Not getting to the World Series this year, though, prevented Leyland from leaving on the successful note he’d wanted.
“We let the American League League Championship get away,” Leyland said. “That hurt. I’m very sorry we didn’t get that done.”
But, as he said he already knew, win or lose, he was done.
“I’m still grumpy, so there will be no silly questions,” he said with a laugh. “But I want to tell you how this all went down. That morning in Kansas City, I told Dave I don’t know what your plans are, and he said, ‘Well, you’re my manager.’ And I said, ‘I’m not going to be the manager. I don’t feel it would be fair to anyone for me to continue.’
“That’s just the way it went.”
So, after eight seasons, Leyland is leaving.
But he isn’t.
“I’m not retiring,” he said. “This is not good bye because I’m going to stay in the organization. I’m just not going to be in the dugout.
“But I’m sure this organization will not miss a beat. I think I still have a chance to get a World Series ring here. At least I think they’ll give me one if they win it next year.”
They might even present it on a silver platter.