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Former manager Leyland selected to Hall of Fame

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Published in Baseball
Sunday, 03 December 2023 22:19

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Jim Leyland, the longtime manager who guided the Florida Marlins to the 1997 World Series title, was selected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday.

Leyland was named on 15 of 16 ballots in the selection process during a meeting of the Hall's contemporary baseball era committee, which examined the cases of managers, umpires and executives whose greatest contributions came after 1980.

Nominees needed to be named on at least 12 ballots for enshrinement. Falling just short was former manager Lou Piniella, who was named on 11 ballots. Executive Bill White was listed on 10 ballots. Also considered were managers Cito Gaston and Davey Johnson, umpires Ed Montague and Joe West, and executive Hank Peters.

Leyland will become the 23rd person to be inducted into the Hall as a manager and the first since 2014, when Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa and Bobby Cox were enshrined. Leyland, who got his start in the majors as a coach under LaRussa with the Chicago White Sox, was asked to sum up what he tried to impart to his players over the years.

"I tried to impress upon them what it was to be a professional and how tough this game is to play," Leyland said. "And I told them almost every day how good there were."

Leyland never advanced beyond Double-A as a minor league catcher during a playing career that ended in 1970. But he more than made up for that during a long managerial career that began in the minors in 1971. He landed his first big league job with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1986 and went on to win 1,769 games over a 22-year big league career that ended in 2013 with the Detroit Tigers. He ranks 18th on the all-time managerial win list.

Only Hall of Famer Joe McCarthy won more games among managers who never made the big leagues as a player. As he waited for the call from Hall of Fame chairperson Jane Forbes Clark on Sunday, Leyland initially thought the hour advanced late enough that the call -- 60 years in the making -- was not going to arrive. Then it did.

"I thought when I didn't get [the call] by a quarter of seven, it wasn't going to happen," Leyland said. "So I went up just to rest a minute and get my thoughts together. When my son came up, the phone rang and it was the Hall of Fame. I couldn't believe it. There was definitely a tear in my eye."

Leyland managed numerous superstar players during his career, including all-time greats Barry Bonds and Miguel Cabrera. As much as he was respected by the superstar players, he was known as a skipper who treated everyone in his clubhouse as an equal.

"All the good managers realize it takes 24-25 guys," Leyland said. "It takes one heartbeat to sustain. I try to communicate with everybody."

Known for his lovably irascible manner and pregame news conferences conducted in undershirts amid a haze of cigarette smoke, Leyland reached his pinnacle with the 1997 Marlins, an expensively built team designed to win fast. With Leyland leading a team full of stars including Gary Sheffield, Bobby Bonilla, Moises Alou and Kevin Brown, the Marlins went on to beat Cleveland in a seven-game World Series.

After that Marlins club was dismantled, Leyland moved on to manage the Colorado Rockies for one season before spending his final eight managing the Tigers. Detroit won two pennants during his tenure (2006 and 2012) and earned four postseason appearances.

Leyland was named Manager of the Year three times, twice in the National League (1990 and 1992) and once in the American League (2006).

Leyland, 78, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on July 21 in Cooperstown, New York. He originally signed as a player with the Tigers organization in 1964, so when he is recognized among the game's immortals next summer, it will be the crowning achievement of 60 years around the professional game.

"It's the final stop, really, as far as your baseball career goes," Leyland said. "To end up and land there at Cooperstown? It doesn't get any better. I mean, that's the ultimate."

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