Friday, April 11, 2008

Leyland Failing So Far In His Biggest Test

Some time ago, I wrote that Tigers manager Jim Leyland was to face his toughest managing job to date -- certainly of the Detroit portion of his career. Never before had he managed a team with expectations as high as they were when spring training began. Forget Detroit -- maybe nowhere that he's been, period. We would see, I tossed out there, just what kind of a manager he truly is, when nothing other than a World Series win is expected, or tolerated.

Well, the season is nine games old, the Tigers have lost eight of those, and already Leyland has complained about himself. The team wasn't ready, he moaned -- and there's no one to blame for that other than him. Agreed.

But why? How? What happened to cause the Tigers to come out of the gate in a collective trance? Why are they playing like deer caught in the headlights?

The answer, I'm afraid, is simple but no less mortifying.

The Tigers are choking. Nothing more, nothing less. After blowing that 3-0 lead on Opening Day to the rising KC Royals, the Tigers' collars tightened significantly. That loss seemed to shake them, for whatever reason. They haven't put together one solid game yet. Even their win the other night, you could chalk up to the law of averages at work.

So what did Leyland say, or not say, or do, or not do, to set this nightmare off? How culpable is he?

What's happening now proves my thesis. I scoff at people who would look at Sparky Anderson or Joe Torre or Casey Stengel and brush off their success with their great teams simply because they were able to manage great players. If that's all it took -- great players -- then you may as well play the MLB season on paper and with computers. While it's true that the aforementioned skippers all struggled with teams far less talented, you cannot say unequivocally that ANYONE could have guided those great players to the promised land. The best talent isn't necessarily going to win the most games, nor win the World Series. It takes the right person to mold it.

Is Jim Leyland not the right man for this job? I'm not saying that -- yet. But it will beg asking, if this slide continues much longer. Maybe it'll turn out that Leyland himself wasn't able to handle a team with such heady talent and lofty expectations. We'll see.

But it's hard to fathom this group starting 1-8 under ole' Sparky or Torre, ain't it?


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