Jim Leyland is back as Tigers' manager

Jonathan Daniel

The 67-year-old baseball lifer is back again, on a one-year contract, but it wasn't a guarantee after a difficult season.

DETROIT -- The empty bowl of fruit loops Jim Leyland had just finished eating lay atop his desk when a crowd of over 25 people descended into his office on Tuesday afternoon. At 67 years old, dressed in a pink sweater vest, white collared shirt and black pants, Leyland sat behind his desk, having just signed on for another year as the Tigers' manager.

And, in typical Leyland fashion, the first thing he said was laced with humor, but also truths.

"Thanks for coming," he quipped, "pretty good turnout for a guy who was fired in July."

Then he added, "I look old, but I feel great. I see no reason to not do this another year."

It was official, just two days after being swept in the World Series by the San Francisco Giants, Leyland was back. And, as was the case last season, he is on a one-year deal, for roughly $4 million. It will be his eighth season managing this team, and Leyland says it will be his last stop in his lengthy and distinguished career, one that includes 1,676 wins, the most for any active manager in the big leagues.

But considering how difficult it was for him this season, his return was no guarantee.

"The toughest," his wife, Katie, said.

That's because this year the Tigers entered the season with enormous expectations; general manager Dave Dombrowski had signed first baseman Prince Fielder to a massive contract, he had a strong rotation, a veteran closer in Jose Valverde and the strength of superstars Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera.

When the Tigers began the season 9-3, their early output (even if small sample size) seemed to align with the enormous expectations. But soon the season fluctuated, with the Chicago White Sox leading most of the summer and the Tigers' play inconsistent. And the brunt of the criticism? That fell to Leyland, who suddenly had to deal with endless second-guessing of his lineup choices.

He took it hard.

"This job is not for the weak," he said on the morning of Game 4 at a breakfast place 30 minutes north of Detroit. "And if you can't take some bullets, you're in the wrong business if you're in a place that's so passionate about the game.

"Contrary to what a lot of people think you generally know the people who are on you and anybody who said they're not aware of it or it doesn't hurt, is probably lying."

Dombrowski was keenly aware of the criticism, even receiving letters over the course of the season ripping his manager.

"I do say this with sincerity for the people who don't like Jim Leyland and the people who don't like his strategy," Dombrowski said. "If people knew how hard this guys works -- he works so hard -- they'd love him.

"The day Jim Leyland is no longer the manager of the Tigers, the day I'm no longer the general manager of the Tigers, what'll happen is the next day, those same people will be second-guessing the new manager, the new general manager."

Luckily for most Tigers fans, that day has not yet come. And if any of them want a snapshot of who their manager is -- lest they have any doubts -- he was the one, in his undershirts less than an hour after his team had been swept in the World Series, walking around the clubhouse of the team he loves, talking to the players he loves and in the city in which he has worked for the past seven years, thanking them all. It was Leyland who went up and hugged each and every one of them. He said little but he didn't need to; they all knew he cared about them as both people and players.

"He just told me thank you for everything," Valverde said.

It was Leyland's embrace with Valverde that night that seemed to last a bit longer, a bit more emotional than all the others. And Leyland knew it then: on Tuesday Dombrowski announced the team will likely not be pursing him as a free agent.

For as gruff as he can appear, Leyland always gets emotional when talking about his players. And on Tuesday it was not when discussing himself or his decision to return as manager, but when talking about Valverde.

"I'm really going to miss him," Leyland said.

So why come back? Why add more stress to your life when you could retire, knowing in the seven seasons you managed in Detroit, you took the team to two World Series, came two wins shy of another, captured two division titles, and had only one losing season?

"I live on stress," he said. "That's what makes me tick."

He also lives in a cauldron, and his loyalty, his devout loyalty was questioned by some this summer when the Tigers were falling in the division and Leyland, to many, was sticking with players who didn't warrant the loyalty.

"People say I'm loyal to a fault," he said. "You know what? I know I'm taking that to the grave with me."

And so it was after the press conference, after the meeting with the media - some in the room who had criticized Leyland this season - after all the commitments were done when Dombrowski, who's known Leyland for 30 years and worked with him for a good bulk of those, came down to his manager's office. Dombrowski asked how it went with the media, and Leyland looks up to a media relations rep and said he thought it went pretty well.

"Don't you think?" he says.

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