Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Leyland's "Vote of Confidence" Is This: You Still Have A Job

Forgive me, because this is hardly the first time I've pulled this quote from the grab bag of the wayback machine, but it's just too good and too eternally relevant for me to retire it.

The Pistons, way back in 1971, announced that they had just given coach Butch van Breda Kolff a brand new contract extension. And the press wanted to know why VBK didn't look all that jazzed about it at the presser.

"Hell, they can always fire you," VBK explained of his faith in the written word, "and you can quit if you want to."

Is that statement any less true now than it was 37 years ago? Didn't think so.

There really are no guarantees in pro sports, except for guaranteed contracts, which often times only guarantee the insanity of the contract giver-outer.

Contracts, truthfully, are symbols. They are commitments, to a degree, of a team to a player or a coach. But they are mostly symbolic, and extensions are seen as the ultimate vote of confidence.

But, as VBK so succinctly said, they can always fire you. And you can quit if you want to.

At issue is Jim Leyland, and his contract status with the Tigers.

Leyland is signed through the 2009 season. And that's all. Not one pitch beyond.

Nothing says that a team has to continuously make sure that the coach is under contract for seasons beyond the one upcoming. Yet when they don't, that term "lame duck" starts to crop up.

You know, the players know that (insert name here) is only under contract for the year current, and so he may not be around much longer anyway, blah, blah, blah.

Leyland, according to Mitch Albom of the Free Press, is miffed that the Tigers aren't extending him beyond '09. President and GM Dave Dombrowski has chosen, apparently, to let next year play itself out before rendering a verdict as to whether Leyland will manage in Detroit beyond then.

But is that a lame duck thing, or a "prove to me that you deserve an extension" thing?

What was conveniently buried was that DD offered Leyland a contract through 2010 when the skipper was extended beyond the original limit of 2008. But Leyland chose instead to be extended only through '09. Oops. Now that offer is off the table, to hear Leyland tell it.

Some of you might remember Walter Alston. You would be the same folks who remember that Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings. Or that there was a Dodgers manager before Tommy Lasorda.

Alston was that pre-Lasorda Dodgers manager. He skippered the team from 1954 through 1976. Twenty-three years. And do you know how many contracts Alston signed? Twenty-three.

That's right. Perhaps the greatest manager in franchise history worked on a year-by-year basis. He didn't seem to mind. Nor did the owner. And nor did the players, as the Dodgers did a whole lot of winning in those 23 years. The next person to call Walt Alston a lame duck will be the first.

In Leyland's defense, he wasn't overtly whiny or bitter about DD's decision not to extend. But Leyland was clearly hurt. Here's how he characterized his three years managing the Tigers.

“I think we had a great year, I think we had a good year and then we had one disastrous year. … I’ll take my share of the blame for it. ... But you can put several people up on a dart board and if you threw a dart, you’d probably hit the right guy. ... We were all guilty.”

Leyland, of course, wants to look at the big picture in all three years. But as I've bellyached here before, the Tigers have been a terrible second half team in all three of Leyland's years in Detroit. And I'm sorry, but that's troubling. Now we're not talking anymore about lame ducks, but about chokers, when you consider such second half nonsense.

Albom said that Leyland wanted a vote of confidence, and didn't get it.

Here's your "vote of confidence": you have another year left on the contract. And we're not firing you. Good luck in '09.

A manager, or a coach, shouldn't need any more vote of confidence than that.

But coaches want the purse string holders to put their money where their mouths are. Wrong. They already did that, when they hired you in the first place.

Leyland did make one astute observation: if this underachieving year had occurred in the last year of his contract, he may soon be the ex-manager of the Tigers. But it didn't, so he gets another year -- the year agreed upon by both parties.

If DD didn't have that so-called confidence in Leyland, then he would fire him. Simple as that. And he would do so, no matter how many years were left on the contract. It wouldn't be the first time a team paid a manager not to manage.

Jim Leyland has it all wrong. He's 1-1-1 in his three years in Detroit, but he likes to look at it as 2-1. In my book, he's 0-3 in second halves, for whatever my opinion is worth.

If the Tigers don't win in '09, he'll probably be out the door. And he would have been out the door, likely, even with an extension signed through 2010.

Butch van Breda Kolff isn't with us anymore, sadly. But his words are just as true now as they were in 1971 -- and even before then.


Blogger Rick said...

Just manage, Jimmy, just manage. Do a better job this season than last and you'll be fine. Actually do some coaching and practicing in the spring!

8:15 PM  

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