Justin Verlander woke up yesterday, an Autumnal god with no stage for his divine power. "What is a god without witnesses?" he wondered. Today, watching Leyland's announcement, a fresh wave of grief washed over him. "What is a Justin Verlander without Leyland to monitor his pitch counts, to save him from himself?" The third person internal dialogue bothers him, but it is the least of his worries. The thought of Dusty Baker makes his arm hurt. This evening, he will fly Porcello to the Caribbean and the two of them will spend the first three days drinking Cuban rum, smoking cigars and forgetting. The two teammates will drink from sunset to sundown, mostly in silence. By the fourth day, hangovers raging, they will slow down and talk for a while. Having purged the Angels games, the inconsistencies and the difficult end to the season, they will reflect more broadly now. Walking on the hot white sand and staring out at the glittering cyan sea, they will share Leyland stories. "He drove me home from a bar once when I was only 20 and never mentioned it again," Porcello will say. "I wouldn't be the man that I am today without him," Justin will reply, tearing up. Porcello has never seen Justin vulnerable in this way and learns that even our heroes can be humbled by change. After seven days of this therapeutic decompression, the two will go their separate ways. They will text occasionally in the offseason and meet up once in NYC for a vintage Ricky/JV bar crawl.
Prince Fielder will tend to his kids. Victor and Little Victor will play baseball together. Torii will take the twin loss of the ALCS and Leyland hard, but he will handle it well, a professional at life. Andy Dirks will chew tobacco anxiously. Judging from Instagram, Jose Veras and AlAl will live it up in the Dominican Republic. Phil Coke will take the news as a bad omen and spend three days in the same room, drinking Budweiser tallboys and later filling them up with his own urine. It will be terrifying. Drew Smyly will stay cool and collected. Omar and Jhonny will meet with their agents. The Razor will consider retirement. NERTS and the Ice Cream Man will mark Leyland leaving by fasting and will not eat ice cream for two weeks straight. Miguel Cabrera will impossibly get rebuilt to be ever better than before. Austin Jackson will hit on a woman, but strike out and Alex Avila will hit his head on his car door, because some things never do change.
Hardest hit will be Don Kelly and Gene Lamont. At Leyland's press conference, Kelly felt like he was attending his own funeral. "What does our future hold, Gene? Will either of us be back? Is this the end for us?" Lamont will reply simply, "I don't know," crushing Donnie Baseball again. They will talk long into the night about how much Jim Leyland has done for both of them and how much he will be missed. His cheeks red, sipping Jameson straight, Donnie Baseball will run his hands through his hair, finding much less now than in his youth. "We're getting old, Gene Boy," he will say, wistfully, appreciating his bittersweet days on this earth and in this game. "I'm getting old," Lamont will reply, "You're still just a kid." Lamont will laugh and put his arm around DK. The two will stay like that for a while. Eventually, Lamont will look Don Kelly in his glassy brown eyes and tell him this: "All of our days are numbered, but that will always be the case. Baseball is a constant stream of change, but we will always have our memories. Our lives have been a secret poem these last few years and we have been epic characters, The Wizard and Lamont. The game has changed us, but we also changed it. Our names will be carved into the great and impossibly long history of American Baseball. Our names won't be the first parents will tell their children and it's possible they will be looked over by most people, but we will always know the special place upon which they are carved. Keep the memories, Donnie." Kelly will stare back with watery eyes. He will clear his throat to speak, but words will fail him. The two friends will spend the whole night talking and reminiscing about the good times, unaware of what tomorrow will bring.
The ends are stacking. Burnt orange and amber leaves are falling and night is coming more quickly than before. Somewhere in the Upper Peninsula it is snowing. Tiger baseball in 2013 is at an end. The Jim Leyland era is at an end. But baseball always laughed at linear time and shirks definite "Ends." Baseball is a cyclical game and it will be reborn out of its ashes again in April of 2014, even Detroit baseball. Still, it will be different. Leyland and his nervous pacing will be gone and will not be back. He will not be the only one to leave either. The dugout will look very different next year. With Leyland's exit, many things about Detroit baseball are put into question. The future, always inscrutable, is in more doubt than ever today.
How will we cope, dear readers? Some of us will be happy and celebrate, glad to be rid of Leyland's questionable in game decisions. Some will cry watching Leyland say goodbye and we will be surprised at our response. When did Leyland become such a large part of our lives? Why did this often frustrating smokey old man become so dear to us that seeing him leave actually elicits tears? Will we have another figure as elusive and blunt, as funny and grumpy, as taciturn and hilarious, as loved and reviled? I don't know. What was the Leyland era? There are the numbers. 700-597. Two World Series births. Four trips to the post season in eight years. All of this coming after some of the most calamitous baseball the world had ever seen coming out of Detroit or anywhere else, for that matter. But more than the numbers, there is the man himself. He has held the smokey helm of the Tigers revival and been at the front of one of the greatest eras in Tiger's history.
Leyland will go outside tonight, walking slumped over a bit, thin and narrow shouldered. He will get in his Cadillac and drive around Detroit, reflecting. Smoking, he is a call back to a different time in almost all ways. The old guard is being replaced, that much is clear. Leyland will drive past Comerica and recall his triumphs and failures. No, there is not a ring. Unlike in the stories, sometimes the good guys don't win. He protected his players, but he could not protect himself from that one missing piece that may come to define his legacy in Detroit. Leyland will reflect on this grim bit of trivia. "Well," he will think, "You can't win em all and baseball is a hard game. They played hard and I can't be anything but grateful for that." He will take a final drag of his cigarette, the ember burning brighter than before, and he will exhale slowly, tossing his cigarette out to land in a place unknown and burn out as it pleases.