1. He was a winner. No matter where he went.
The uniform may have changed a few times over the course of his 27-year managerial career, but Jim Leyland’s facial expression and ability to turn talent into a team certainly hasn’t. He won NL Manager of the Year twice with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He won the 1997 World Series with the Florida Marlins merely five years after the expansion team came into existence. And he helped a Detroit Tigers franchise that hadn’t had a winning season in over a decade become one of MLB’s elite teams. He is 15th in all-time wins and a coaching legend — and we’re running low on legends.
2. No one gets ejected like Jim Leyland anymore.
Getting thrown out of a baseball game is an art form, and Leyland was a master at it. He stood up for his players and his team even when he knew he was wrong. Leyland’s tantrums have earned him a spot on the Mount Rushmore of hot-headed managers alongside Bobby Cox and Lou Pinella.
3. His unapologetic love of cigarettes.
“Still. Smokers out there, you know what I’m talking about. That moment, after you’ve had a huge meal, say at Thanksgiving, when you step outside in the cold, light up a cigarette and take a deep inhale…that’s about the best moment in the world, you know? All the smokers out there, you know that feeling. Sometimes, smoking is fantastic.”
4. His loyalty and humility.
The above video is the perfect example of why people love Jim Leyland. On his last day as manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Leyland invited members of the media who had gathered outside his house into his kitchen to have breakfast with his family. He’d managed the Pirates for a decade and led them to three straight appearances in the NLCS — it was his first managerial job in the MLB, and he’d developed a deep bond with the city and its fans. Do yourself a favor and watch the entire video. When he gets choked up thanking his neighbors for their support, the room gets pretty dusty.
5. His great sense of humor.
“Oh, what’s that? I shouldn’t joke about drinking in excess? Fuck that, I’m Jim Leyland.”
6. He respects “God Bless America.”
Everyone knows one of Leyland’s favorite pastimes was reciting all his favorite curse words for home plate umpires, but this may have been finest hour. During a game against the Yankees, Leyland went out to speak his mind but paused during the playing of “God Bless America,” then immediately resumed yelling, because he’s awesome like that.
7. He gave the city of Detroit a reason to cheer and be proud.
Before Jim Leyland arrived in Detroit, they hadn’t finished above .500 in 12 seasons. In his first year they went to the World Series. Over the course of his tenure, he led the Tigers to three consecutive ALCS appearances and two trips to the World Series. The team went from a national joke to a source of civic pride.
8. He was a badass.
How many people would like to have cursed off Barry Bonds to his face? Well, Leyland did it — on camera — and it was glorious.
11. He was the last of his kind.
Jimmy Leyland never cared about being politically correct. He cared about his players, the fans, and winning baseball games. He rarely had a filter with the media and never met an umpire he wouldn’t give a piece of his mind. He was old-school in the greatest sense of the word, and he was beloved for it. He helped make Pittsburgh a baseball town, led the Marlins to a World Series, and embodied the city of Detroit. He enjoyed a cigarette and stiff drink, but most importantly he loved baseball, and baseball is going to miss him.
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