If teams win, it’s the players who do it. The manager may get credit for making a double switch or calling for a timely hit-and-run, but more often than not, all he gets is second guessed for all the moves that don’t work out.
When they’re fired, as all coaches and managers ultimately are, even the blame is tepid, the critics admitting that a manager can’t win with a lousy team even as they flog him out the door for managing a lousy team. Then, when he shows up elsewhere and starts to win — as Joe Torre did in New York after lackluster stints with the Mets, Cards and Braves — he’s suddenly a hero and remains so just as long as his players remain better than everybody else’s.
Football and basketball coaches put up with a lot, but at least when they win, they get credit for drawing up the Xs and Os, for motivating the troops, for calling the plays, for being the difference between a championship and a second-round exit in the playoffs. Baseball managers don’t even get praise calling in the all-star reliever in the ninth inning and having the future hall-of-fame clean-up hitter bash three-run homers. How hard, after all, is it?
And yet for all that, it is recognized that some managers are better than others. There aren’t many of them, but they’re the guys who always seem to make teams better. Billy Martin used to be able to do that before the asylum that was the Bronx Zoo and the mad shipbuilder Yankee owner drove him so far into the bottle he never climbed out.
Now, there’s Jim Leyland, last seen on Colorado’s bench in 1999, where he pulled a Larry Brown and quit on the team and himself after one awful season as a lousy facsimile of the savior-designate he was hired to be.
After a six-year hibernation, he all but offered his services for free to manage the Detroit Tigers this year, a team was 1 loss short of matching the 1962 Mets for the most in a season, a team that hasn't seen the playoffs since 1987, a team for whom losing was become comfortable rather than painful.
It’s hard to make a baseball team win; some would say it’s impossible. That’s because the nature of the game is such that the harder you try to succeed, the more likely you are to fail. You can play better by being more intense in basketball and football. But in baseball, tension is the thief of performance. The key, some old-timers like to say, is to perfect an oxymoronic relaxed intensity.
But Leyland makes teams win. He’s personally intense, but in a feet-on-the-desk kind of way. In an age in which managers talk increasingly like CEOs, he’s gnarly and lean, his speech is peppered with profanities, and he’s so far managed to live 61 years without hearing the news that tobacco is bad for your health.
He demands excellence, but so, too, do a lot of people who fail. The difference is, he manages to get it.
Detroit has won five consecutive games four times already this season. No other Tigers manager since Sparky Anderson has had more than three such streaks in their entire tenure, the Associated Press reported.
“Obviously, he’s been blessed with great players,” Brandon Inge said with a laugh Tuesday night.
On April 17, after a dreadful 10-2 loss, Leyland closed the clubhouse doors and aired the team out, his not-ready-for-prime-time language blistering the paint on the walls and singing the hair on his players.
He’s got some veterans on the team, led by Ivan Rodriguez, the catcher. And such tactics aren’t supposed to work on baseball players, especially those who have been around a while and have more money than they or their grandchildren’s children are ever going to be able to spend.
ATLANTA (AP) - Matt Harvey pitched six hitless innings, John Buck homered and the New York Mets held off another Atlanta comeback, beating the Braves 4-3 Tuesday in the first game of a doubleheader.
Taking a look at some of the greatest catchers off all time.