Honest Leyland is breath of fresh air

Rob Parker discusses straight-forward, honest style from Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland

By Rob Parker - Sports Columnist
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LAKELAND, Fla. - It's hard not to like Tigers' manager Jim Leyland. It's not that he's the best manager in baseball or that he never makes a mistake.

Just ask Tigers fans after Leyland makes out some of his lineups. It's simply that Leyland is probably one of the most honest managers in the game. It shouldn't count or matter. But it's such a breath of fresh air in this world of phony, double-talking, disingenuous managers/coaches.

No one is asking for them to give their game plan to the opponent, just to be honest when asked a question.

Remember the answers are for the fans, not the media. Hate to break it to many fans, but most reporters could careless about whether a team wins or loses.

And there's nothing worse than wasting time listening to a guy lying through his teeth. It seems so dumb.

Enter Leyland, the gruff 68-year-old, old-school baseball man.

The other day in Lakeland before the Tigers played the New York Mets in an exhibition game, I asked Leyland -- who only has a contract for this season -- about his future after this season.

There was some talk last season that Leyland wanted to walk away from the game on top, retire after winning a World Series. His long-time friend Tony LaRussa did it in 2011 after leading the St. Louis Cardinals to the championship.

Leyland when faced with the question could have dished out the long-winded nothing answer, he could have said he didn't know and was only worried about winning.

Nope. The man was honest and delivered news to the reporters in the room with me.

"I'm not retiring," Leyland said with conviction. "Whether we win or we don't win. Now, they (owner Mike Ilitch and GM Dave Dombrowski) might have a different thought, but it won't be mine. I feel good. I like what I do. I have no intention of retiring."

Most just wouldn't have touched the question, especially since Leyland is under pressure this season. There are huge expectations for the Tigers, who were swept in the World Series last year by the San Francisco Giants.

"I don't plan on retiring anytime soon,'' said Leyland, who also took the Tigers to the World Series in his first season at the helm in Motown in 2006. "I don't know about years, but I know I'm not ready to go home. I love what I do."

His openness and honesty didn't stop there. On another subject about whether or not he gets nervous while he's managing, Leyland was frank.

Most would have pooh-poohed such a notion, especially a seasoned-veteran like Leyland, who has managed for 22 years and won a World Series with the Florida Marlins. Leyland said his nerves gets going when the game is on the line.

"You got two outs in the ninth inning, the tying run on second base and someone hitting against you, any manager who tells you your heart isn't pumping like a son of a (bleep) ought to go home," Leyland said. "'Cause it is. I don't care how stoic or cool you look sitting there, your heart is (bleeping) pumping. And if it's not, you ought to go home."

Leyland is hardly embarrassed.

"That's just the way it is," he said. "I don't care what anybody says. You're concentrating, you're watching but your heart is accelerated. Believe me."

When I asked him if he needed to win another championship to put him on another level before he retires. Leyland scoffed and was brutally honest again.

"You know what, if I went out tomorrow, I wouldn't care how any of you guys felt," Leyland said. "I would feel like I went out on top. I was a backup Double A catcher who hit (bleeping) .222. I've managed in the big leagues 22 years, with a world title, division titles, American League championships. Now, what the (heck)? I would say holy (bleep). I've got some money in my pocket, I've had a lot of fun, managed a lot of great players and against a lot of great players. What's to (bleep) about?"

That's real, raw and honest. It's Leyland being Leyland. You have to appreciate that man.

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