By Ashley Dunkak
COMERICA PARK (CBS DETROIT) – Former Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland spoke with Valenti and Foster of 97.1 The Ticket Monday after his big retirement announcement, where he took on lingering questions from the 2013 season.
He weighed in on Game 2 against Boston in the ALCS where the Tigers blew a 5-1 lead when they allowed a grand slam to David Ortiz. The team went through relievers quickly, with closer and bullpen stalwart Joaquin Benoit giving up the homer to Ortiz. Going back, Leyland said he stands by his choices and has no regrets.
“Not at all,” Leyland said. “I can honestly tell you I felt comfortable with every strategic decision I made.”
“I had no second thoughts about any strategical decisions I made in that series,” Leyland added. “Game 2 was huge, I really believe that, but I also think that Game 3 was the killer … Game 3 might have ended up being the key game.”
Following up the Game 2 loss with a loss in Detroit made winning the series increasingly unlikely for the Tigers, and they ultimately lost Game 6 on Sunday, losing the series four games to two. Shortly after Game 6, Leyland told his players he would not be returning to manage in 2014.
Leyland said that, at nearly 69, he still connects with players and gets his message across just fine but that it was time for him to retire as the travel and time obligations became too stressful and exhausting. Far from happy to see the old skipper move on, the players were shocked.
“I think the players were legitimately hurt,” Leyland said. “I think the players would have been very happy if I came back.”
Several even came to Leyland’s office and did not want him to go.
“[They] said, ‘You know, Skip, you’re the guy for this team,'” Leyland said. “I think they truly meant it.”
One player under significant scrutiny recently has been slugger Prince Fielder, who in 2012 signed a nine-year, $214 million deal. Known as a power hitter and run producer, he struggled in the postseason and has gotten relentless grief from fans and some media about his mediocre playoff performance. To make matters worse, he has answered questions about how much the struggles bother him by saying that they do not and that his family is most important.
Leyland said he has read Fielder’s comments and thinks Fielder is just referring to there being more to life than baseball, for example from the aspect that losing a baseball game is not so bad when one considers there are people dying of cancer.
“Maybe he just didn’t know what else to say,” Leyland said. “I think he was embarrassed by his performance. He probably didn’t handle it as good as he could have handled it … I just hope that they give the guy the benefit of the doubt.”
As for Fielder’s poor production, Leyland mentioned Barry Bonds, one of the all-time greats – though with numbers tainted by steroids – he managed with the Pittsburgh Pirates. While Bonds never did much in the playoffs in Pittsburgh, he did more later in his career. Sometimes it just takes time to figure out, Leyland said.
Another issue many have wondered about is the injury to superstar Miguel Cabrera, which general manager Dave Dombrowski revealed today to be much more serious than originally thought. Leyland said Cabrera simply would not be taken out of the lineup, and the Tigers needed him, even not totally healthy, to get as far as they did this season.
“If we hadn’t had him playing, I don’t think we would have got there,” Leyland said. “If I had tried to take him out of the lineup, he would have gone ballistic.”
“He always said, ‘I want to play. I need to be out there,'” Leyland added. “I couldn’t have taken him out of the lineup if I had wanted to. He wouldn’t have let me.”
To finish off the interview, Valenti and Foster gave Leyland the chance to say whatever he wanted to the fans, the city whose team he managed for eight years, taking it to the postseason four times.
“I thank them so much for what they did,” Leyland said. “I appreciate so much, and I just hope the fans give their next manager the same chance they gave me.”