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ON TOP OF THE WORLD AFTER 33 YEARS IN PRO BASEBALL, MARLINS MANAGER JIM LEYLAND FINALLY WON THE BIG ONE

Nov. 03, 1997
Nov. 03, 1997

Table of Contents
Nov. 3, 1997

Faces In The Crowd

ON TOP OF THE WORLD AFTER 33 YEARS IN PRO BASEBALL, MARLINS MANAGER JIM LEYLAND FINALLY WON THE BIG ONE

It was 1:47 a.m. on Monday when the music finally hit Jim
Leyland, and he began to move. For an instant nobody in his
corner of the cigar-choked, champagne-soaked Florida Marlins
clubhouse knew how to react. Nobody expects a celebrating
manager to go beyond the usual caveman shout and beer-gut
massage, and with good reason. It doesn't happen. Do you really
want to envision Connie Mack, Chuck Tanner, Earl Weaver or Tommy
Lasorda boogying? But suddenly there was Leyland, his normal
undertaker's face replaced by a mask of pure bliss, transported
by the heavy boom of the dance-club hit Men in Black. He planted
his shoeless feet in the damp carpet and closed his eyes. His
hips began to swivel, his knees pumped. He danced. There was a
beverage in his right hand and a huge droopy T-shirt on his
back. The crowd backed off and began to hoot. A young woman
started screeching, "You go, Jim! Go, Jim! Go, Jim!"

This is an article from the Nov. 3, 1997 issue

He went all right. Truth be told, he looked pretty damn good
doing it. Who could blame him? If you were a 52-year-old manager
who'd spent a decade hitting fungoes in places like Clinton,
Iowa, and Evansville, Ind., before making it to the majors; if
you'd been tagged as a genius who couldn't win; if you'd finally
gotten a team brimming with talent but struggling with injuries
and a fed-up owner and critics who dwelled on the payroll--and
if, after all that, you made it to a World Series that everyone
decided was just god-awful, well, you wouldn't be shy when it
was over either. Especially because, after Leyland superbly
handled his bullpen in winning Game 7, all that static
disappeared. He's a champion now. For the first time, he has the
last word.

"Yeah, we spent some money," Leyland said after a World Series
won as much by unknowns as by his much-publicized free-agent
stars. "But how about Craig Counsell? How about Edgar Renteria?
How about Charles Johnson? How about Livan Hernandez, Felix
Heredia? I could go on and on. We won this World Series with a
kid who was in Double A last year [Hernandez], a kid who was in
Triple A this year [Counsell]; we lost our best pitcher [Alex
Fernandez]. Nobody's going to ruin this for me tonight by
talking about money. We didn't buy this pennant, we won the
pennant. We won the World Series. We earned it."

Three times before, he had gone to the National League
Championship Series with a talented Pittsburgh Pirates team that
couldn't advance to the World Series. Even a two-run lead on the
Atlanta Braves heading into the ninth inning of Game 7 of the
1992 championship series wasn't enough--pinch-hitter Francisco
Cabrera drove in the winning run to deny Leyland once again. He
won't admit it, but his friends know the loss ate at him. "It
had to, because he was reminded of it so often," says Marlins
third base coach Rich Donnelly, who has been with Leyland for 12
years. When Florida opened Game 1 of the '97 championship series
in Atlanta, Donnelly said, "FRANCISCO CABRERA was on the
scoreboard, the answer to a trivia question. They left it on the
board for three innings."

It didn't matter. The Marlins got hot, lost Fernandez to a
rotator cuff injury, disposed of the Braves, then Cleveland.
Leyland became the conscience of this World Series when he said
before Game 5 that talk of this being a boring Series made him
puke. He went on to rip the late starting times of the games and
the chase for TV ratings and stated, "I've been in baseball 33
years, loading the buses for 18 years, and I'm not apologizing
for being here."

The pending sale of the Marlins and his ill-disguised dislike
for South Florida prompted speculation about Leyland's future
before the Series had ended. Under the terms of his contract,
Leyland can leave if the team is sold. After the game he did
nothing to dismiss the conjecture about his departure. "Nobody
knows what's going on in the organization right now," Leyland
said. "Everything's up in the air. How do I know what's going to
happen?"

His family rolled into his office at Pro Player Stadium then,
cousins and in-laws and his son Patrick, and all uncertainty
vanished. Just minutes before, Leyland had said that along with
his marriage, winning Game 7 was "the happiest moment of my
life." Now here was his wife, Katie, and the two grabbed each
other hard. "I'm so proud of you," Katie whispered in his ear.
"So proud."

Jim Leyland's eyes were red and shining by the time they let go.

--S.L. PRICE

COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO [Jim Leyland with arm and fist raised]