He misses it. Not the travel, but the sheer joy of steering a professional baseball team.
And so, it made saying yes easy for Jim Leyland, the former Tigers skipper who has been away from the dugout since 2013 and who Friday was named manager of the United States team for the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
“I think the big thing here is, it’s very temporary,” Leyland said during a teleconference. “It’ll keep the cobwebs off, and will get me into the dugout for a couple of weeks. But I can assure you during those two weeks I’m going to be into this, I’m going to be pumped up, and do the best job I can.
“Hey, this is kind of neat, not managing 162 games anymore,” he said. “But the stakes are big, and, hopefully, we’ll have some great players. It’ll be a little bit energizing, and I look very much forward to it.”
Leyland, 71, retired from managing after the Tigers lost to the Red Sox in the 2013 American League Championship Series. He had decided weeks before the 2013 playoffs that his 22nd year as a big league skipper would be his last.
He since has been busy in a semi-retired post as a Tigers front-office special assistant. The job has been pleasing for a man whose career has been baseball since he signed with the Tigers out of high school.
But even if scouting, consulting, and discussing big league baseball’s intricacies with a Tigers club that has shaped so much of his life has been satisfying, Leyland was ready for the WBC and its tidy format.
The World Baseball Classic is a 16-country tournament akin to an Olympics, but with no prohibition against professionals. Like the Olympics, it is played every four years — in February and March in 2017.
Leyland will be the fourth manager of a U.S. team since the WBC began in 2006, joining predecessors Dave Johnson, Joe Torre, and Buck Martinez. Also on Leyland’s staff: Marcel Lachemann (pitching coordinator), and Willie Randolph (third base).
He said WBC organizers approached last autumn and simply asked him to think about 2017. He was initially intrigued — and became steadily enthused.
“We’re hoping to create an atmosphere where we can get the United States behind this, and increase the flavor just a bit,” said Leyland, who understands the WBC has been a heavier hit with countries outside the U.S., particularly in Latin America.
“We’ve maybe not taken this serious enough, if I can say that, so hopefully more people (fans) will get involved. It’s been a little bit of an issue. Some of the favorite (U.S.) players have been missing. But I think we can get everybody behind it and put a good team together.”
Because the WBC overlaps spring training, past U.S. rosters have been hit-and-miss as star players often have opted to stick with their big league clubs. Leyland hinted Friday some lobbying might be ahead.
“I’m just laying low right now,” Leyland said. “The only thing I have done is I wrote down today all the catchers, shortstops, first basemen — everyone — and there are some pretty good names there.
“Whether we can get those guys, we’ll have to wait and see.”