Thursday, August 24, 2006

Leyland's Importance Will Be Emphasized In September

Jim Leyland likes to talk about how he has very little to do with the Tigers' success this season. He's humble to a fault, causing eyes to roll because it's just not believable that he could have such little impact on his players' overall performance. Yes, a manager must have talent to have a chance, but more talented teams than the 2006 Tigers have missed the playoffs -- many times because their leadership has been unable to mold it properly.

The Tigers will soon begin their most important September in 19 years. That's when they last made the playoffs, in 1987. In no other September since then have the games meant as much as they will next month, when every at-bat, every pitch even, becomes magnified.

It's a task that can be daunting to teams with a question mark in the manager's office.

Leyland is no question mark. He's been through all this before, many times over. He's been to several NLCS, and won a World Series, as a manager. Despite his humility, Leyland will have influence over this pennant race like you won't believe.

And his players know it. Their manager is the unquestioned boss, and right now 25 minds have been molded into playing Detroit Tigers baseball "the right way." 25 men are committed and united in a common goal. 25 men will have the right approach in September, because their manager will see to it.

The Tigers will lean on Jim Leyland like never before, in September. He will be their rock, and their calming influence. He won't allow them to get too down after a loss, or too high after a win. It all comes down to experience, that ancient sports word. But no less important. Having a manager who's still wet behind the ears wouldn't serve this team well right now.

The Tigers could certainly win the AL Central right now if their manager was Alan Trammell, for example. They could win it without Jim Leyland's steady hand at the wheel. They could win it despite not having someone in the dugout who's been through this as many times as Leyland has. They could.

But isn't it nice that they won't have to try?


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