There is an old story often told to teach a lesson on perception (and religious pluralism, but I digress).
There are four blind men, each groping in the dark. The first takes hold of a thick, rough cylinder and cries out, "I have found a tree trunk!" The second blind man grabs hold and says, "No, I feel thin, wispy strands, this must be a broom". The third grabs hold and says, "no no, this is smooth and long like a pipe". The forth reaches up and down and proclaims, "no, this is broad like a wall"
Of course all the blind men were all wrong, they were, in fact, touching an elephant. They had hold of a leg, tusk, tail, and side respectively.
Perhaps the story holds true when we ask the question "who is Jim Leyland?" It depends on your perspective. Here are four of the main perceptions of Jim Leyland.
Profile: Bumbling old-man whose time has passed him by
Advocates: Sports radio talk show hosts, website commenters, that one uncle everyone has
Evidence: Loyalty to certain players, slavish reliance on right/left match ups, bunting, eating during the post game interviews, smoking.
There is a segment of the fan base that has claimed for years that Leyland has been completely incompetent. Not just subject to some errors, but a man whose judgments were so fundamentally flawed he single-handedly cost the tigers 7-15 games a year. He pulled pitchers too early, he put in the wrong reliever, he didn't bunt enough, he bunted too often, he stuck too long with struggling players, his lineups stunk... These people knew his judgments were wrong because food flew out of his mouth during interviews and he smoked. "He's just a senile old man" these people would yell while dissecting each managerial decision, usually with the benefit of hind-sight.
Profile: Hard-nosed, old school baseball man who does things "the right way"
Advocates: Jim Price, grandpas, some national writers, Barry Bonds?
Evidence: Chewing out umpires, love of the hit and run, foul mouth
Leyland has been in baseball 50+ years, he must be tough and old school! Look at his grumbling! Look at his swearing! Unlike the previous camp, this group loves these attributes. If only today's whippersnappers would learn to respect the traditions of the game. One story captures this Leyland beautifully. Evidently after the top of the 7th inning Skip came out to argue a call with the umpire. When God Bless America started to play he stopped yelling and took of his hat for the song only to resume his rant when the song was over.
Profile: Clever, self-deprecating motivator who has people duped
Advocates: many of the beat writers, other managers
Evidence: Never makes excuses, uses subtle motivational tactics, wins (quite a few wins)
If Jim Leyland is such an out-of-touch bungler, how has he made it so long? The answer is: he's not an idiot. You might not always agree with his conclusions, but Leyland always does something for a reason. And often they are reasons that that are behind the scenes. How many times has there been clubhouse drama? How about drama with management or other teams? Leyland always falls on the sword for other's crap. Chris Iott tells a story about how Leyland, his office full of media, calls Ryan Raburn into his office and tells him ""Get that healed up, I need you in the lineup." This was a calculated move to instill confidence in his guy and get him to perform. I'd be stunned if there are not hundreds of these stories.
Profile: Tenderhearted, emotional player's manager
Advocates: Front office staff, players
Evidence: Post clinch celebration tears, hugging, more tears, players dedication
When I met Phil Coke this spring about my silly twitter account he was suspicious but pretty cool about everything with one important exception: you can't say anything bad about Skip. I don't know if I've always followed his edict, but it surely does tell you something about how he felt about his manager. This is not an anomaly, players love Jim Leyland and give him their all. Don't buy all the gruff stuff and the language, when it comes down to it Leyland is a guy who pours out everything he has for his team, for his guys.
So, which is it? Who was Jim Leyland as a manager? Perhaps, like the elephant, there are fragments of truth to each perception. Leyland was dedicated to doing things the right way. He loved his players. He was brilliant at relating to his stakeholders. He doesn't know how to turn on a computer He made occasional tactical blunders. He was a really good manager and a terrific person.
But now that Leyland is retired and heading back to suburban Pittsburgh, the time for perception and study is over. Perhaps this is a more applicable story:
Six blind elephants were discussing what men were like. After arguing they decided to find one and determine what it was like by direct experience. The first blind elephant felt the man and declared, 'Men are flat.' After the other blind elephants felt the man, they agreed.
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