Do you suppose if former Tigers' skipper Jim Leyland is elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame he’ll eat potato salad and smoke a cigar on stage during his induction ceremony? The crusty everyman Leyland was never much for manners: his postgame press conferences were open-mouthed nosh-fests. Maybe that type of unsophistication is what's needed in Cooperstown?
Most media members and baseball pundits have anointed “Smoky” as a “future Hall of Famer.” But, a close examination of the record reveals a complicated case for the former manager.
Speaking of the World Series: Leyland won a title in 1997 as manager of the Marlins. That’s the lone WS title for Jim. But, Jack McKeon, who managed the 2003 Marlins to the title, had a better career winning percentage (.516 to .506). Yet, nowhere is McKeon’s name mentioned as a Hall of Fame manager.
Perhaps it’s longevity that places Leyland’s name on the tongue of so many of his supporters. Leyland managed 22 seasons, was never fired mid-season, and always drew great respect (except that time he quit the Rockies unexpectedly).
There have been 27 managers who worked at least 20 seasons. Leyland’s .506 winning percentage ranks above only five of those managers, and three of those won multiple World Series titles.
Leyland’s teams made eight playoff appearances, which is exceeded by only nine other managers. Of course, he managed in an era when it was easier to get into the postseason, with the three-division setup and wild cards. Of the eight managers that had at least nine PS appearances, six managed during the wild card era.
Leyland’s teams captured three pennants (one with Florida, two with Detroit). That’s the same number as Leo Durocher, Bucky Harris, and Hughie Jennings, all managers who have plaques in Cooperstown. The only skippers with 3+ pennants (post-1900) NOT in the Baseball Hall of Fame are not eligible yet (Bruce Bochy, Dusty Baker, Terry Francona, Dave Roberts), and Ralph Houk and Charlie Grimm.
Grimm (.547) and Houk (.514) both had far better winning percentages than Leyland did.
Bucky Harris and others are exceptions, not the rule. Will Leyland be honored in December by this special Hall of Fame committee? He’ll be up against fellow managers Lou Piniella, Davey Johnson, and Cito Gaston. Each has an accomplishment that trumps Leyland: Piniella won more games; Johnson has the second-highest winning percentage of any manager since 1945; and Gaston won back-to-back titles.
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