By: Jamie Samuelsen
No, this isn’t because Gene Lamont sent home Prince Fielder in Game 2 of the World Series.
No, this isn’t because Lamont made questionable decisions that probably cost the Tigers a mid-July game in Baltimore.
And no, this is not because Lamont’s windmill tendencies have caused Tiger fans to voice their displeasure and allowed @FakeGeneLamont to become a must-follow on Twitter.
I think we’ve followed Jim Leyland long enough as Tigers manager to know that he’s not one to bow to the wishes of the fans. Ryan Raburn, Brennan Boesch, Jose Valverde, Lloyd McClendon and Brandon Inge are all pretty strong examples of Leyland’s pretty strong will. So I doubt that Leyland is “demoting” Lamont by taking him out of the third base coaching box and moving him into the dugout. Instead, this is a move that Leyland believes will strengthen the team as a whole and strengthen the job that he does as manager.
Leyland was asked during the postseason about people he looks up to in baseball and people he bounces baseball decisions off of as he’s moved through his career. Instead of listing off some old-timers who he grew up idolizing, Leyland pointed to his contemporaries. Everyone knows about Leyland’s close relationship with former Cardinals skipper Tony LaRussa. But Leyland also said that he’s lucky to have Lamont and McClendon on his staff because both are former managers and both have a lifetime of baseball knowledge. He cited them as two specific examples of baseball minds that he loves to pick.
In fact, it’s a little surprising Leyland hasn’t made this move earlier than now. Lamont has been the Tigers third base coach ever since Leyland took over the job in 2006. Clearly, his strength is not at that position. He probably gets more blame than is deserved. And he’s right about what he said in San Francisco when he found himself in the eye of the storm after the Fielder play. Nobody cares about the third base coach, unless they mess up. It’s a lot like being a closer. If you blow a save, the media wants to talk to you. If you retire the side in order, you’re simply doing your job. I’ve never heard a single fan say, “GREAT move there by the third base coach. Brilliant decision.” Lamont knows that, and his reaction was a tad over the top. It’s the nature of the job.
But Lamont does have a deep, thoughtful baseball mind. My very first job in radio was working in Chicago in 1992 covering all the local teams for a radio network. The White Sox manager was a newbie named Gene Lamont who quietly steered the Sox to the 1993 playoffs and a six-game loss to the Blue Jays in the ALCS. This was a clubhouse full of egos (Jack McDowell, Frank Thomas, George Bell, Tim Belcher and a rehabbing slugger named Vincent “Bo” Jackson.) And Lamont managed it perfectly en route to the AL West title and the AL Manager of the Year award.
You don’t do that without poise, knowledge and some guts. And now Lamont will take his rightful place next to Leyland on the bench in 2013. So instead of making his decisions alone, some of which have been heavily scrutinized, Leyland will have his closest most-trusted friend sitting next to him. Fans may mock this and mock Lamont for waving himself out of the third base box. But in truth, this is a wise move for the Tigers – and one that should have been made years ago.