October 22, 2013 at 11:18 am

Tom Gage

Jim and me: Manager Jim Leyland was one of a kind

Detroit — What will the next Tigers manager be like?

We don’t know at this point, we can’t, but he sure won’t be like his predecessor.

He sure won’t be Jim Leyland.

The new manager won’t have had a Studebaker Lark as his first car or driven it around the neighborhood on a summer’s day with the windows up so his friends would think the car had air conditioning when it didn’t.

But showboating Jim Leyland did.

He won’t drop one profane bomb after another in his office with a female present, then ask the young woman to leave because he felt his language was about the get worse when it really wasn’t.

But gentleman Jim Leyland did.

He won’t ever use a reference to Frankie Avalon.

“Show me a manager who looks like Frankie Avalon at the end of a season and I’ll show you a manager who didn’t work real hard.”

But a “Venus-if-you-will” Jim Leyland almost annually did.

The new manager won’t be a product, in all likelihood, of the 1940s and 50s.

He won’t have been brought up with black-and-white television, Wildroot Cream Oil and the thought he might have made windshields in Toledo the rest of his life if it hadn’t been for baseball.

But Jim Leyland was.

He probably won’t have Tigers history in his blood, the nights in Lakeland, Fla., on which he would write everything down that Bill Lajoie told him because to be a manager someday, there wasn’t a better mind to pick than Lajoie’s.

When hired, Jim Leyland had Tigers history in his blood. To this day, he remembers the bus trip he took to spring training for the first time, watching wide-eyed over the final mile of the journey to the park where the major leaguers were working out.

The new manager, if he has a pregame media session, probably won’t conduct it from under a blanket on the sofa bed in his office at 9:30 on a Sunday morning because why not spend the night at the park after a Saturday night game?

Reporters, myself included, would groan about the time (3˝ hours before game time Sunday morning), but the bad thing about it was never more important than the good thing: the fact Leyland felt it was his responsibility as manager to meet with the press twice a day.

And not in some informal interview room, either.

If it was a Sunday morning with Leyland still under the covers, hey, that was Leyland.

The new manager, if he refers to them at all, probably won’t refer to cigarettes as smags. That’s from the 50s, and as much as he knew he should stop smoking, Leyland never has.

He once attended a function at the White House, telling the story about “needing a smoke,” and how he and the late Harry Kalas, the Hall of Fame voice of the Phillies, found a corner where, allowed or not, they were able to light up.

Then again, continuing on a presidential theme, the new manager probably never played a round of golf with Bill Clinton.

Leyland did.

“When he called to congratulate me for winning the World Series with the Marlins, I asked him, ‘When are you and me going to play golf?” Leyland said. “I didn’t expect him to take me up on it, but I asked anyway, and he replied by saying he was going to be in Florida soon and would call me.”

The new manager probably won’t be able to say that, as a player, Double A was as high as he got because he “couldn’t hit.”

But the fact he never was a major leaguer was the source of his biggest satisfaction as a manager.

“Some managers have to lose the respect of the players but because I was a no-player and just a Double A guy, I had to earn the players’ respect,” he said. “That was probably the proudest moment of my entire career. Other guys had stats when their playing career ended. But I had to earn their respect.”

The next manager probably hasn’t sung at weddings or hasn’t sung “Betcha by Golly Wow” on the team’s winter caravan.

Leyland has done both.

He also sang a Toby Keith song at a Tigers organizational reunion last spring.

One of a kind

He’s had some fun in his life, Jim Leyland has. That’s for sure.

There have been two parts to his life, though, a rowdier side before he found his true love, Katie, and the part of his life where he stops after two wines.

But more than being an original as a manager, he’s been an original as a person.

Someone who could be grumpy while claiming not to be grumpy.

Someone who would answer the question he anticipated instead of the question he was asked.

Someone who didn’t want to be called a throwback because he’s never considered himself one.

Never mind he once said, “I don’t google, I don’t goggle.” He actually has become semi-proficient on a computer.

The next Tigers manager probably won’t moonwalk.

Jim Leyland moonwalked in Minnesota.

He probably won’t be heard in his office at spring training singing a Righteous Brothers song — “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling.”

And that tear in the old photo of Ty Cobb in the manager’s office in Lakeland? Leyland was responsible for that, too.

Or rather his thrown shoe was.

Leyland led the majors in adjectives, those that could be applied to him. If you use 10 to describe him, that’s only a start.

Try 10 more.

The three I would start with are “honest, competitive and colorful.”

I once told him, during another-than-baseball conversation that Elvis Presley’s key to happiness was “someone to love, something to do and something to look forward to.”

He liked the quote so much he had me repeat it two other times that day.

I know Jim has someone to love in his life. I trust his new job with the Tigers will be enough of something to do. And now that he won’t be managing, I hope he’ll have something to look forward to.

Only then will it be correct when he said about retirement, “It was time.”


Tigers manager Jim Leyland had said he'd know when it was time to go. On Monday, he tried to maintain his composure as he made it official. / Robin Buckson / Detroit News
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