When Jim Leyland made an ass of himself

Jared Wickerham

Upon Jim Leyland's retirement, the first thing that came to mind was his most famous moment by a lot, from more than 20 years ago. Before the clip, though, some background ...

Leyland took over as manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1986. That same season, Barry Bonds joined the Pirates and quickly established himself as one of the game's best young players. In 1990, the Leyland- and Bonds-led Pirates jumped from fifth place to first place.

By 1991, then, Leyland and Bonds had been together for five years. Bonds was never easy to get along with, and one might imagine Leyland's frustration over those five years.

One day in spring training, Bonds got upset with a press photographer, and then got more upset with a team employee who explained to him that the photographer had the right to photograph whichever player he liked. To which Bonds eventually responded, "You can kiss my ass. You get that camera out of my face or I'll take care of it myself, do you hear me? You can't decide who takes my picture. Get the fuck away from me."

That's straight out of Peter Pascarelli's book, The Toughest Job in Baseball, which is ostensibly about managers generally but is mostly about Jim Leyland. A few minutes later, according to Pascarelli, Bonds joined the other Pirates outfielders for some activity, and grizzled coach Bill Virdon sidled up to Bonds and said, "Why don't you grow up and stop acting like an asshole? How the hell can you treat people like that?"

That went over super-well! Bonds snapped, and had to be restrained by a pair of coaches. At which point Leyland hurried over and wanted to know what was going on. Bonds told Leyland it wasn't any of his business. And that's when Leyland so famously snapped ...

It's hard to make out some of the words, and I couldn't help noticing that some of the words in the video are different from the dialogue that Pascarelli reports in his book. So we'll never know exactly what was said on that crisp spring morning in Florida. But thanks to Pascarelli and someone's video camera, we've got a pretty good idea. The Pirates would win another division title in 1991, and yet another in '92. And Leyland's public disgust with his best player has long been considered a real key to the Pirates' success. Because most of Bonds' teammates were just waiting for somebody to say something.

For his part, Leyland said the same day, "I'll be watching myself making an ass of myself all year now."

Hey, thanks a lot YouTube. It's been 22 years, and now we can watch Leyland make an ass of himself all the way to Cooperstown.

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