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‘Jim Leyland: A Life in Baseball’ is a touching tribute to the skipper

The special airs January 31 at 9 p.m. ET on MLB Network

ALCS - Detroit Tigers v Boston Red Sox - Game Two Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

MLB Network has been putting out a lot of original content lately through its MLB Network Presents series, and on January 31 they’ll take on the baseball history of former Tiger’s manager Jim Leyland. The one-hour special focuses largely on Jim’s time as a major league manager, while also touching on his early experience as a Tigers minor league player and manager.

The special presents a series of interviews from former players and colleagues, interspersed with a lot of game footage and some excellent behind-the-scenes content from his days with the Pirates. Discussions with players like Barry Bonds, who still refers to Leyland as “Skip” and Gary Sheffield paint a very deep portrait of the man who many Tigers fans just knew for his dour expressions and volatile on field persona.

Bob Costas goes one-on-one with Leyland in his Pittsburgh home, where Leyland reminisces over bygone teams as if the games he managed for them happened only yesterday. His memory is sharp, and he is soft-spoken and humble as he discusses the choices he made in difficult games, like bringing in Joaquin Benoit during Game Two of the 2013 ALCS against David Ortiz. Jim is always unapologetic about his choices, but it is evident that each one of those milestone games left its mark on him.

As he takes Costas into his kitchen where a Commissioner’s trophy replica is installed, you can see just how proud of his lengthy career Leyland is. The way he speaks about the players and the teams he played for—often with a sheen of tears in his eyes—the love of baseball is palpable. Moreso, though, the documentary reminds the viewer of how personal the game can be. Leyland refers to the game as a “people business” and admits his focus was always on how to handle each individual player, rather than the mechanics of what was happening on the field.

Though the bulk of the documentary focuses on Leyland’s career in Pittsburgh, and his World Series winning stint with the Florida Marlins, there is still plenty here for Tigers fans. The interviews are light on modern players, but there are a few familiar faces from the 2006 World Series. What the special offers for Tigers fans beyond that is an insight into a man who got to end his career where he started it, with a team and players he very clearly loved. It also offers a great deal of personal insight and warmth to a man who many had never seen smile during his tenure with the Tigers.

Ultimately Jim Leyland: A Life in Baseball doesn’t offer anything new or challenging to the legacy of the beloved manager, but it does accomplish its goal of telling a compelling baseball history. It would take a stony heart indeed to make it through the full hour without being moved by the tears in the eyes of the hard-faced, serious men on screen.

Jim Leyland: A Life in Baseball is an MLB Network Presents original special. It features an exclusive interview between Jim Leyland and Bob Costas, as well as all-new interviews with Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, Sean Casey, Gary Sheffield, Andy Van Slyke, Dave Dombrowski, Rich Donnelly, Gene Lamont, and Tony La Russa. The special features rarely seen footage of Leyland throughout the tenure of his career. It airs on January 31 at 9 p.m. ET on MLB Network.