DETROIT -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland couldn't hold off Twins counterpart Ron Gardenhire in the American League Central standings. The AL Manager of the Year voting had a happier ending for him.
Much as Leyland warned people that he was simply in the right place at the right time for the Tigers' resurgence, he received some well deserved credit for Detroit's sudden ascension to a contender. The Baseball Writers' Association of America made him just the second Tiger in history to win Manager of the Year honors.
The choice between Leyland and Gardenhire was expected to be a hotly debated one. It came down to who faced the biggest challenge -- Leyland for overcoming the adversity Detroit faced from a dozen years of losing, or Gardenhire for overcoming the adversity Minnesota faced from Opening Day onward.
The Tigers had baseball's second-longest active streak of losing seasons when president/general manager Dave Dombrowski hired Leyland last October. The veteran skipper from three other stops, including a World Series championship with Dombrowski in Florida in 1997, had spent the past six years observing the game as a scout for the Cardinals, but couldn't resist the chance to manage the organization that gave him his start back in 1963, and where he managed in the Minors for more than a decade in the 1970s and '80s.
Leyland sent out a letter outlining his expectations during the offseason, then set about establishing his system of rule in Spring Training. Though he came to town with a reputation as a no-nonsense manager, his biggest strength has often been the fierce loyalty he could attract from star players, not to mention a feel for game strategy that included an uncanny ability to manage a pitching staff.
Leyland put all of those traits on display from the outset of the season, helping the Tigers race out to baseball's best record in the first half and the Tigers' best start since their last world championship in 1984. Many Tigers credited him as the calming presence that kept the clubhouse loose.
"He's probably one of the nicest guys I've ever played for," reliever Jamie Walker said, "and I can honestly say he's probably the best manager I've ever played for. He earned my respect quickly."
Most Tigers players only knew Leyland's style by reputation when he took over. He had instant credibility in Spring Training because of his track record, figuring he knew what he was doing. Now, they've seen it work first-hand.
They've also seen he doesn't always fit the image that hangs about him. As Leyland himself said earlier this year, he might be old, but he's not old school. His most famous moment of the season, undressing the team after a sloppy game in April, cemented a reputation as a whip-cracker. At his best, however, he was the most positive presence a player can have.
"He's the boss," closer Todd Jones said. "He sets the tone for everything. If he doesn't look confident, then we don't feel confident. He dictates everything. We just follow his lead. We just close our eyes, grab onto his leg and go."
Sparky Anderson was the only other Tigers skipper to win manager of the year honors, taking the award in 1984 and '87. Leyland also became the third person to win the award in both leagues, joining Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox. BBWAA voting on manager of the year began in 1983.
http://mlb.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/news/arti ... p&c_id=mlb