By Tim Arrick
Don’t get me wrong, I love Jim Leyland. I love his cranky demeanor, his chain smoking and the fact that he has forgotten more baseball than I will ever know. What I don’t love is that the Tigers are pitifully underperforming once again with him at the helm. I know I am not the first to voice this and I won’t be the last but Jim Leyland needs to be let go and let go immediately.
Looking at his recent career record, he did well in the early 90’s with the Pirates but with the Marlins, the Rockies and Tigers the track record isn’t there. Sure, he won a World Series with the Marlins and took the Tigers to the World Series in ’06 but both were his first years with the team. After that the teams didn’t live up to expectations.
The current Tiger team does have some problems that Leyland can’t do much about. There is a massive hole at second base and the bullpen has been lackluster to say the least. He has Prince Fielder, Justin Verlander, and Miguel Cabrera, three men I am fairly confident will make the Hall of Fame at the end of their careers and yet after a critical 3 game series with the Cleveland Indians, the Tigers are six games back and four games under the 0.500 mark. In no baseball universe is this acceptable.
Leadership seems to be an issue and the other day in an interview Leyland talked about leadership and how it is the ‘star’ players that are the leaders, the guys that bat 0.300, drive in 120 runs, pitch shutouts and record the saves. To me it sounded like he was saying that it wasn’t up to him to lead but his stars needed to lead by example. Verlander is his usual awesome self but the rest of the ‘start’ aren’t showing the leadership and in the case of guys like Prince Fielder, are making bonehead plays that are contributing to the loses. This is where a manager needs to step in. Perhaps the problem is though that the Tigers have tuned him out. While he did get ejected in today’s game against Cleveland I really felt that that was more to protect Tommy Brookens and not as motivation.
I am a firm believer that at the Major League level, the manager is only good for actually ‘winning’ 4 – 5 games a year under normal circumstances. The problem is when your team is underperforming it isn’t about who you play and when you bunt. It is about providing the motivation and pushing the right buttons. That is why Phil Jackson won so many championships with the Lakers and the Bulls. Sure he had some awesome players but he knew what buttons to push and when to push them. Leyland just doesn’t seem capable of pushing those buttons anymore.
If Leyland is fired, the question then becomes who replaces him. Terry Francona is one name that has been thrown around and may be a good replacement. My only concern is that bringing him in mid-season he might not have a firm a grip on the clubhouse dynamics. My choice would be Tom Brookens. Brookens was always a fiery guy and is a former Tiger.
Am I confident that firing Leyland is going to get the Tigers to the World Series. No, I don’t have a crystal ball and can’t promise that. What I do know is that if they continue on the current path the World Series is out of the question and the playoffs are definitely in doubt. They need a change and they need it now.
Skipper, it has been a fun ride but 2006 was six years ago and we need to win now.