In an empty stadium under a perfect Florida sky one day this
spring, new Marlins manager Jim Leyland walked out of the dugout
in his stocking feet with a full bag of baseballs in his hand
and his five-year-old son, Patrick, in tow. As the grounds crew
groomed the field Leyland pitched BP to his son near the first
base line. Born and raised in Ohio, Leyland, the skipper of the
Pirates for the last 11 years, looked comfortable in his new
"So now I'm wearing a different-colored uniform. So what?"
Leyland says, in his typical half-joking growl. "The game hasn't
changed. I haven't changed." He still chain-smokes, chugs black
coffee and thinks constantly about his lineup. And he still
watches his favorite movie, Hoosiers, about once a week.
Leyland hasn't changed, but his surroundings are certainly
different. After guiding Pittsburgh to three National League
Championship Series appearances from 1990 through '92, Leyland
has watched in agony the past four years as the
strapped-for-cash Pirates' front office stripped his team of its
best and most expensive players.
Just the opposite has taken place in Florida, where Marlins
owner Wayne Huizenga spent $89 million this winter (plus $7.5
million more to sign Leyland for five years) to lock up
free-agent talent--such as righthander Alex Fernandez, third
baseman Bobby Bonilla and outfielder Moises Alou--that
Pittsburgh couldn't afford. In fact, Florida's 1997 payroll of
$48 million is almost four times what the Pirates will spend.
Yet one of the first things Leyland said to the All-Star-laden
Marlins was, "Let's remember one thing, fellas. This group
hasn't done s---yet."
After watching Leyland at work in spring training, it's easy to
see why he may have been Huizenga's most important acquisition.
Instead of hanging back in his office or chatting up Marlins
stars before a game, Leyland, who spent 18 years as a player and
a coach in the minors, could usually be found sitting in the
outfield grass surrounded by rookies and players on the lower
end of his roster.
During the exhibition games, he often bounced from seat to seat
on the bench, touching base with more guys in three hours than
some managers might speak to in a week. One inning he was
talking leadership with stars Bonilla and Gary Sheffield. The
next inning he was cracking jokes with several Latin players on
the other end of the bench. In between he'd stop to explain
strategy to youngsters like shortstop Edgar Renteria and second
baseman Luis Castillo.
With so much more talent than he had in Pittsburgh, Leyland has
shifted his tactical priority from managing game situations to
managing the people on his roster. "Jim's teams always start out
each spring as a thick block of ice," says Marlins third base
coach Rich Donnelly, who filled the same role for Leyland with
the Pirates. "And with each move he makes, he chisels a little
bit off until he has a work of art."
So don't expect to find Leyland, the son of a factory worker, in
a South Beach art gallery or in a trendy Miami cafe having an
espresso. "I'm not a beach person," says Leyland. "Sand gets on
your feet, in your shirt, in your hair. Seems like a waste of
time just lying in the sand and baking. Nah, that's not me."
2B Luis Castillo
One half of the youngest double-play combo in the majors
SS Edgar Renteria
Hit .309; finished second in rookie of the year voting
RF Gary Sheffield
Had career highs in homers (42) and RBIs (120) last season
3B Bobby Bonilla
Averages one error every five games at third base
LF Moises Alou
Slugging percentage has dropped in each of the last two years
1B Jeff Conine
Set career marks in homers (26) and runs (86) last season
CF Devon White
Saved three homers by making over-the-wall catches in 1996
C Charles Johnson
Threw out league-best 48.1% of runners trying to steal last year
Ace Kevin Brown
'96 Cy Young runner-up had best ERA in majors (1.89)
Closer Robb Nen
Saved 20 games in his last 21 appearances
In 1993 the Marlins and the Rockies became the 11th and 12th
expansion franchises in the major leagues. Colorado reached the
playoffs two years later, but Florida became the first expansion
team to improve its winning percentage each of the three seasons
following its debut (.395 in '93, followed by .443, .469 and
.494). The Rockies, the Mets and the Brewers improved their
records in the second and third years but suffered a decline in
STAT FACTS BY ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU