Former manager Jim Leyland will revisit his Midwest League roots when he returns to Clinton for the LumberKings’ “Throwback Night” on Saturday.
Leyland, who racked up 1,769 wins as a major-league manager, got his start as a skipper with the 1972 Clinton Pilots. He also managed Clinton in 1973 and 1975. His first Clinton team finished with the second-worst record in the Midwest League (49-77), but his second Pilots team finished with the best record in the MWL (73-51) and got knocked out of the playoffs by the eventual league-champion Wisconsin Rapids Twins.
I wrote a bit about Leyland’s MWL roots last October, and included some of his reminisces that ran in a 1991 Clinton Herald article. (You can read that post here; it includes a link to the Clinton Herald article, as well as a photo of Leyland as manager of the Pilots.) Leyland clearly remembers Clinton fondly, as evidenced by some of his quotes in recent Iowa newspaper articles about his homecoming.
“Clinton is one of the stepping stones of my career, and I don’t ever want to forget that,” Leyland told the Clinton Herald. “It’ll be great to see the ballpark and the people again. Clinton was a quaint little city.”
In an interview with the Quad-City Times, he said: “It was a good place to learn, and the time I spent in Clinton was important to my career. It was really where I started to figure out what it took to manage a club. You find yourself in charge of a bunch of guys with different personalities, different backgrounds and your job is to bring it all together. You have to figure that all out.”
Leyland also talked to The Des Moines Register, recalling the team bus picking up fan Earl “Growler” Fenn so he could go on road trips with the Pilots.
Leyland’s fondness for Clinton isn’t some sort of newfound nostalgia discovered during retirement. He occasionally talked about his Midwest League days with reporters throughout his career. For example, in this 1990 Chicago Tribune article, he expounded on what Fenn meant to him, and talked about the friendliness of the Iowa river town.
“I liked it when you walked down the street in Clinton, Iowa, and people said hello to you,” Leyland told the Tribune. “Old ladies would bake pies for the players and bring them on Sundays, and invite them over to their house for dinner, stuff like that.”
And then there’s this tidbit from a 1997 New York Times article by Buster Olney, written on the occasion of Leyland’s Florida Marlins winning the World Series:
“A career minor-league player, he had dedicated his appearance in this Series to all those who spent their careers bouncing around the minors in buses. All those guys, Leyland said, who played in Clinton, Iowa.
Now Leyland and those guys who stopped in Clinton have a title, too.”
I’m eager to see the reception Leyland gets in Clinton on Saturday. I’m sure it will be as warm as he remembers the town where it all began for him.