It was a bedraggled NFL coach, unnamed but whose words aren’t forgotten here, who once marveled at the power of the radio headset.
“I’m going to Radio Shack and buy me a pair of those headsets the guys on radio wear,” the coach said at a press conference.
“Because as soon as you put them on, you become a genius!”
I dare say that the same could be said for the computer keyboard.
Don’t think for a moment that Tigers manager Jim Leyland, because of his curmudgeonly ways and supposed computer ignorance, is unaware of what has been written and said about him on the Internet and on the radio.
Perhaps he pays too much attention, frankly.
But there’s vindication for Leyland now.
The Tigers are champions of the AL Central and the skipper would like to tell a bunch of us where to stick the pine tar.
The second half collapse that the Tigers have been prone to endure under Leyland has been non-existent in 2011.
The Tigers have been no cheap tent post-All-Star Break. It took them a while to get rolling, but then they made mincemeat of their competition in the division.
A 12-game winning streak (which ended Thursday in Oakland) made the Tigers 38-19 in the second half.
That’s not a collapse, that’s a blitzkrieg.
This is Leyland’s sixth year in Detroit. The first five, save year one, have ended with no playoffs. Teams who may not have been better than the Tigers on paper have been constantly beating them out for a spot in the post-season.
The second halves of those seasons—including year one this time—have been rife with fading and shrinking as the spotlight has gotten brighter and hotter.
Leyland, it has been pointed out again and again by his harshest critics—and include me among the complainers—is the only real constant, the underlying thread to all the collapsing.
So it MUST be his fault.
The bloggers with the magical keyboards that make you a genius are having them shoved down their throats right now. Or someplace else due south.
Leyland, who’s never been shy to call out a reporter or a radio station, got cranky with an out-of-town writer this past week.
The poor scribe had the temerity to wonder—out loud so the manager could actually hear—whether the Tigers’ AL Central crown holds some tarnish, because of the state of the rest of the division. The Tigers are the only team playing north of .500; the White Sox, Indians, Royals and Twins all have losing records.
“I will not let anybody take anything away from what those guys in (the locker room) have done,” Leyland barked, according to the account from MLive’s Chris Iott.
Turns out Leyland was just getting warmed up. Before long, he was hotter than a firecracker.
“Everyone was saying (the White Sox) were (bleeping) good,” Leyland said. “Now, all of a sudden, because we’ve beaten them they’re horse (bleep). That’s not fair. That’s unfair. If you think the Central is horse (bleep), then write that it’s horse (bleep). But I’m not falling for that (bleep).”
Then, a telltale clue that Leyland knows what they’re saying about him.
“There’s too much good going on. That stuff’s negative. I haven’t fallen for it all year, when they had our (butts) fired, when they had us all out of here, when we were a (expletive) team and everybody was ripping us. I wasn’t falling for it then and I’m not falling for it now.”
It was a classic Leyland rant—one that has probably been brewing inside him for weeks, if not longer.
And he deserves it.
I was one of those geniuses with a keyboard who had Leyland’s butt fired, as recently as earlier this season. I was less than enthralled with his sometimes mind-boggling lineups, his stubbornness, and his dismissal of some of his critics.
Leyland, I wrote and said on podcasts, is damn lucky that he doesn’t manage in New York, if he thinks that the critics are harsh in Detroit. The media, I felt, has been very kind to Leyland.
But he deserves this moment. He deserves the cigar he smoked in his office in Oakland, while his players whooped it up in the next room.
You see, there are two Jim Leylands.
There’s the crotchety Leyland—the nicotine-infused man who’s gone off on the likes of Jason Grilli and a host of reporters and who takes umbrage when it’s suggested that Brennan Boesch should have been bunting.
Then there’s the Jim Leyland who wept openly in his office Friday night, as he spoke to Fox Sports Detroit’s Mario Impemba about how he hopes the Tigers fans are proud of his team and why a winning baseball team can possibly raise the spirits of a fan base riddled with job loss and financial devastation.
Both Leylands deserve to tell the keyboard and radio headset geniuses to smooch him between the back pockets.
Leyland entered the 2011 season sans the safety net of a contract extension. Another disappointing season, the geniuses said, and old Jim would be out the door.
Don’t think he didn’t hear the talk.
Then came the extension, granted around mid-season to Leyland and President/GM Dave Dombrowski by owner Mike Ilitch. The geniuses said the timing was odd and, frankly, unacceptable.
How could a guy get extended when we’re just starting second half collapse season around these parts?
The Tigers looked wobbly until mid-August, when Dombrowski unexpectedly pried Delmon Young from the Twins. It was the most unforeseen trade since “Bewitched” switched Darrins.
But then Leyland made like McArthur and Patton and Schwarzkopf, all rolled into one. The way Leyland led the Tigers through the AL Central in these final weeks, you could almost imagine him in sunglasses, an Army hat and with a corn cob pipe.
Jim Leyland has delivered the Tigers’ first division title since 1987. His albatross of second half collapses has been torn from him. The Tigers are 39-20 after the All-Star Break.
He’s too classy to do it, but part of him, I’m sure, would like to give it to his critics, which you don’t hear from, anymore.
“I guarantee you one thing,” Leyland said in the Iott article. “This you can print. It’s not like everybody’s lining up to play the Tigers. We are pretty good, too.”
I’ll smoke a stogie to that.