Jim Leyland announced Monday that he is stepping down as manager of the Detroit Tigers. The longtime major-league manager got his start as a skipper in the Midwest League.
Leyland managed the Clinton Pilots, a Detroit Tigers affiliate, in 1972, 1973 and 1975. He took the helm of the Pilots two years after ending his minor-league playing career, during which he batted .222 in 446 games in rookie ball, Class A and Class AA (but never in the Midwest League). Clinton had the best record in the Midwest League in 1973, but got bumped from the playoffs in the first round by the Wisconsin Rapids Twins, who went on to win the MWL championship.
Leyland reminisced about his Midwest League days in an article published in the Clinton Herald in 1991, when he was manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“It’s amazing when I look back…we charter a plane to fly, or take the subway in New York when there are millions of people…I can still see corn fields and only a few buildings here or there between Clinton and Cedar Rapids or Burlington.
“There are thousands of people all over and it’s the same game – but I’ll never forget those days. In 20 years I’ll not forget the likes of Jim Wagner, Ron LeFlore, Phil Mankowski, ‘Spider’ (Art) James, Billy Baldwin, Eddie Glynn. They were a good group and through it all, a lot of fun.
“I enjoyed that time, the only bad time was each night when they had to spray for bugs (mosquito spraying time about the fifth inning). It got so foggy on the field you couldn’t see. And another time I remember Fritz (General Manager Fritz Colschen) trying to pick up a hog and put it in the back of a pickup truck for some promotion or other. But that was all part of growing up.”
Leyland added, “I can remember my first day managing at Clinton in 1972. We played at Davenport and there was a snow fence all around the field (inside the fence) because of the flood. I also remember my small office and throwing a chair through the window of it once and (trainer) Ken Houston picking it up.
“If I remember right, I made $7,200 as a manager that first year – now we get more than that in meal money at spring training.”
In his 22 years managing in the major leagues, Leyland led four teams to 1,769 wins (15th all-time) and eight playoff appearances. He won one World Series, with the 1997 Florida Marlins.
Here’s how The New York Times described Leyland in its story about his retirement from managing:
Leyland is an old-school baseball guy, a failed minor-league player who reached the top by using everything he had learned along the way. He is known for an occasionally gruff manner, for crying when emotional, for a quietly strong faith, for conducting news media interviews while eating and giving blunt answers, and for sneaking a smoke in the dugout. On Monday, Leyland flirted with moments of emotion — his eyes glistened and his voice cracked — but he kept his composure.
Leyland is expected to stay involved with baseball in some capacity.