Jim Leyland Wins Hall Of Fame Spot But Eras Committee Bypasses Others


Of the four managers on the Baseball Eras Committee ballot, only one never played in the major leagues. Yet he was the one elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame Sunday – changing his life emotionally as well as financially.

Jim Leyland, who managed the 1997 Florida Marlins to their first world championship, was picked over Lou Piniella, who missed by one vote for the second time, and fellow World Series winners Davey Johnson and Cito Gaston.

Also failing to win election were former National League president Bill White, long-time executive Hank Peters, and umpires Joe West and Ed Montague.

In a media conference call that followed his election, a teary-eyed Leyland admitted he has a has a special place in his heart for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“They gave me my first opportunity,” he said. “I was just a minor-league manager. I thought I might have chance to coach in the big leagues but didn’t think I would get a chance to manage.”

Leyland’s stepping stone to field general began when he served as third-base coach for the 1983 Chicago White Sox under Tony La Russa, who became a Hall of Famer himself in 2014.

“We won the American League West that year and had a lot of good players, including Carlton Fisk, Jerry Koosman, and Greg Luzinski,” he said.

Although the ‘97 team was the only Leyland squad that won a World Series, he later found success with the Detroit Tigers, winning the American League pennant in 2012, and Team
USA, taking the World Baseball Classic five years later.

“It was very rewarding but also extremely challenging,” he revealed. “I got calls from managers, general managers, and pitching coaches telling me not to abuse their guys. We were ramping up pretty early in spring training.

“We clicked from Day One. You would’ve thought our guys were teammates all their lives.”

Leyland’s lone regret came from his time with the Colorado Rockies. “I just did a bad job,” he said. “I was always a pitcher’s manager and I didn’t think I could make a difference there [in Coors Field].”

Leyland set out to be a player but wasn’t good enough, he admitted. “I didn’t want to be a manager,” he said. “I wanted to be a player.”

A native of northwestern Ohio, Leyland has been to Cooperstown before – notably as a golf partner for La Russa when the former White Sox manager was inducted as part of the Class of 2014. He also returned to the Central New York hamlet to see his son play baseball there.

Leyland’s phone rang off the hook Sunday night with congratulatory calls from Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, La Russa, and Joe Torre, another manager enshrined in 2014.

“In my speech, I’m not going to be able to thank everybody,” Leyland said. “I couldn’t believe the news – there was definitely a tear in my eye.”

Leyland said he had given up hope when his phone didn’t ring until 6:50, some 20 minutes after the MLB Network revelation of the voting results.

“I didn’t really think I had a chance,” he said. “Then as the election date got closer, I got a little excited and a little nervous. To be honest, I didn’t think I was going to get in.”

During his career, Leyland managed a slew of star players, including Barry Bonds, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Miguel Cabrera, Pudge Rodriguez, and Gary Sheffield.

“I’m pulling for him,” Leyland said of Sheffield, who is in his 10th and final year of eligibility on he baseball writers’ ballot.

“For quite a long time, he was the most feared hitter in baseball. But it’s up to the people who vote. “Not being a very good player myself, I realized how good some of my players were.”

Asked if he left a lasting imprint of the game, Leyland said, “I tried to teach my guys to be professionals. I believe young players are searching for discipline and always looking for that leadership.

“It takes a whole team, as [Hall of Fame manager] Bobby Cox used to say. I loved veteran players as much as anybody but I couldn’t treat them any better than the 25th man on the ballclub. And I think they appreciated that.”

The 16-man panel that elected him certainly did; he was the only one of the eight candidates to receive the required 75 per cent of the vote.

Not bad for a guy once introduced to Pittsburgh newspaper readers as JIM WHO?

He said he was “excited, proud, thrilled, and surprised” by the vote that will put him in Cooperstown next July 21, along with players elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America when their results are announced Jan. 23.

The Hall of Fame now has 343 members.


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