If the Detroit Tigers win their fifth World Series in franchise history, will this pave the way for Jim Leyland to leave the game in grand fashion with a championship ring and having led Motown to their first World Series title since 1984, back when Ronald Reagan was in the White House and Prince Harry was just a month old ?
As we head into the 108th World Series, beginning Wednesday in San Francisco, pitting the Giants against the Detroit Tigers, some might be asking the same question.
The reasons are obvious: Leyland turns 68 in December. Tony LaRussa, who guided the St Louis Cardinals to their 11th World Series title over the Texas Rangers last year, announced his retirement three days after hoisting The Commissioner’s Trophy and indulging in a little of the bubbly. La Russa actually was the first manager in MLB history to retire after winning a World Series.
After 33 years as manager, the last 16 with the Cardinals, “it’s just time to do something else,” La Russa, age 67, told the media.
Though Leyland has reportedly dismissed any thoughts of retiring at the end of the year when his contract is up, the temptation to leave the game with a World Series ring, which would be his second (he guided the Florida Marlins to a World Series win in 1997) would be tempting to any manager his age, especially with all that he has accomplished during his dazzling managerial career that extends back to 1986 with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Of course, the Tigers are hardly a one-hit wonder. With the mighty thunder exploding off the bats of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, and staff ace Justin Verlander all returning next season; it’s not inconceivable to expect the Tigers to be back for another epic Fall Classic showdown next year. So, the thinking goes, why would Leyland want to leave at the end of the year with such a powerful team returning for even more pyrotechnics next season?
During a conference call Monday with ESPN’s top baseball analysts, I posed that very question to the all-star panel. Orel Hershiser (ESPN radio analyst), said, ``It’s only a perfect opportunity [retiring at the end of the World Series] if he [Jim Leyland] wants to do it. Because I think this guy wants to die in his spikes. He’s an amazing man to have around baseball. It would be sad to have him go. This is the father, your grandfather, your brother, your best friend that can air you out all in one body. ‘’
Curt Schilling (``Baseball Tonight’’ analyst), meanwhile, reflecting on the question, dwelt on the obvious advantages of leaving the game on top. `` Yeah, I was allowed to do that and walk away when I chose to. That’s what makes it optimal for him. If this is what he wants and he wants to walk away, it’s perfect.’’ ``Either way, win or lose’’, Schilling said, `` when he [Leyland] walks away, it will have to be great. He’s had an amazing run, and he’s had a significant impact on the game. So, I think win or lose, his legacy is safe when he walks away.’’
Karl Ravech, host of ESPN’s ``Baseball Tonight’’, echoing Hershiser and Schilling’s thoughts, added, ``I think Jim at his age and what he’s been able to accomplish maybe at that point where he says, sure, I won, and I walked away. But the challenge in that clubhouse [as] with Terry Francona, they want to go back. I mean, Terry won two World Series and was burnt out. It took him about a year to say I’m not
burnt out anymore. But sure, the answer to your question is yes. There can’t be a better time to walk away than when you’re walking away on top.’’
Other highlights of yesterday’s conference call.
Will Leyland stick with the hot hand of Phil Coke to close out the 9th or return to Jose Valverde who melted down in Game One of the ALCS against the Yankees?
Curt Schilling: ``I played with Jose Valverde. He’s a good kid. I love him to death. He’s out of gas. This is like watching Mitch Williams in 1993 again. He’s throwing the ball without command inside the strike zone. I can’t see him coming in to get the big out. Game 1, if they need two outs in the ninth, I don’t know that he’s the guy.''
The legacy of Justin Verlander, even at his tender age, just barely in his prime?
Karl Ravech: ``I think in order to establish a legacy in baseball in this country; you really need to win World Series. And until Justin does that, his legacy will not be what it should very well be if he wins the World Series. Obviously, he’s positioned himself and his team, and the owner has done enough to surround him with players to make that happen.’’
Game One of the World Series kicks off Wednesday (8:07 , ET) at AT&T Park (24 Willie Mays Plaza, at the corner of Third and King Streets) in San Francisco, which will be broadcast on television by Fox Sports, while ESPN will provide exclusive radio coverage. MLB International, MLB Network, MLB.com and SiriusXM also will be providing comprehensive World Series coverage.
October 23, 2012