DETROIT - The stakes have never been higher to manage in the majors.
Just ask Jim Leyland.
Leyland stepped down as Detroit Tigers manager on Monday, less than two days after his team was knocked out of the American League Championship Series by the Boston Red Sox.
It wasn't supposed to be end like that.
No way, no how.
Just go look at all the pre-season predictions for the World Series this year. It was no contest, a landslide. The Tigers were supposed to not only go back to the World Series for a second straight year, but win it this time. After all, Motown hasn't won MLB's championship since 1984.
But instead of hosting the St. Louis Cardinals in the Fall Classic on Wednesday night, the Tigers have gone on vacation. Worse, Leyland is simply gone.
To his credit, Leyland, who will be 69 in December, made it clear his abrupt departure was his call, his idea dating back to Sept. 7 over a cup of coffee with Tigers' president and GM Dave Dombrowski.
Leyland, who will remain with the organization in an newly created job, said he came to the conclusion that his fuel getting low, that it was time to go and turn over the team to a younger guy. He cited travel and the grind it takes to be a major league manager these days.
"It really wasn't difficult because it was time," said Leyland, who fought back tears at a news conference at Comerica Park. "I knew it was time. I didn't want to come back and fake it."
It comes as a shocker to this reporter, however.
Covering Leyland often for the past eight years, I never got the sense he was done, tired or too old.
It was the exact opposite. Wasn't that Leyland moonwalking after the Tigers clinched his team's third straight AL Central title in Minnesota?
Leyland was full of life, loved his gig and was still having fun. It's hard not to when you're having success. After all, the Tigers had done nothing but win since Leyland arrived in 2006.
In fact, in Leyland's first year, the Tigers went from worst to first in the AL Central. That year they also went to the World Series out of nowhere, losing to the Cardinals in five games.
Last season, the Tigers went back to the World Series. This time, they went quietly, losing four straight games to the San Francisco Giants. In those games, the Tigers scored just six runs.
Enter 2013. This year, Leyland - whose team made it to three straight ALCS - was supposed to get them over the hump. It didn't happen.
First, they struggled against the Oakland A's in the ALDS, finally winning in a fifth and deciding game. Worse, the Tigers had the Red Sox on the ropes in the ALCS. Detroit won Game 1 and had Boston down, 5-1, in the eighth inning, but wound up losing, 6-5.
Leyland, of course, was criticized about the pitching moves that were and weren't made in that series-changing collapse. Instead of being up 2-0, they lost series in six games.
"This one hurts bad because I thought we let it get away," Leyland said. "We did it collectively. There's no one culprit. This is one that's going to stick."
It's probably why Leyland went out his way to show remorse a few times that he couldn't win a World Series for the city and Tigers' aging owner Mike Ilitch.
"I'm very sorry we didn't get it done for you," Leyland said.
In the 27 years of covering sports, Leyland is the most honest manager, coach I've been around. He was real talk, indeed.
Still, it is hard to dismiss that not winning didn't figure in to this decision that the Tigers apparently didn't try to talk him out of.
Pro sports comes to down to winning and money. The Tigers spent money ($150 million payroll this season, fourth highest in league) and didn't win. It's not acceptable.
Deep down, you always felt Leyland wanted to go out like his friend Tony La Russa, the Cardinals manager who retired after winning the World Series in 2011.
Back in March in Lakeland, Fla., I asked Leyland if he was going to retire if his team won the World Series. Leyland was defiant when he said, "Win or lose, I want to manage next year."
What changed since then? Leyland didn't win when he was expected to.
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