"How about myguy Cowher?" new Tigers manager Jim Leyland asked early one morning atspring training in Lakeland, Fla. As the skipper of the Pirates from 1986through '96, Leyland had developed a friendship with--and admirationfor--Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher. "He did one of the bestcoaching jobs I've ever seen this year. What was it, the last eight weeks,every game was like sudden death? And he got the players to respond week afterweek. I really respect that."
On the subject ofhis own club, which is coming off its 12th straight losing season, the61-year-old Leyland is less sanguine. "This team needs to establish a newidentity--it has none from what I've seen," he told reporters in mid-March."The players have to decide if they're tired of being known as a bunch ofnice guys who get beat."
The front officehas tried various ways to end the run of futility. It has spent freely on freeagents (four years, $40 million for All-Star catcher Pudge Rodriguez in 2004;seven years, $105 million for beat-up outfielder Magglio Ordo√±ez last year; twoyears, $16 million for lefthander Kenny Rogers this winter). It has invested inyoungsters (starting pitchers Jeremy Bonderman and Justin Verlander andoutfielder Curtis Granderson are 25 or under). Nothing has worked.
Just last springDetroit had supposedly assembled one of the AL's deepest bullpens, whichincluded Ugueth Urbina, Troy Percival and Kyle Farnsworth. A year later Urbina,who was traded to the Phillies last June, is awaiting trial in his nativeVenezuela for attempted murder, Percival is seemingly finished because ofchronic elbow problems and Farnsworth is a Yankee, having been traded last Julyto the Braves (who lost him in free agency).
Now the Tigershave turned to Leyland, who made his name in the National League by winningthree East Division titles with the Pirates and the 1997 World Series with theMarlins before walking away from the game in '99. He's in a different leaguenow, but he hasn't changed his managerial philosophy. "From Day One he'sjust asked us to do the little things right," says first baseman--DH DmitriYoung. "We were fourth in the league in hitting last year but 11th in runsscored, so we've got to do the things it takes to get the runs home. Anderrors--to make as many errors as we made [110 last season] is just notprofessional."
Then there's thepitching staff, which last season had an ERA that was nearly a full run higherthan those of Chicago and Cleveland. Adding the ageless Rogers won't be enoughunless Bonderman, 23; Nate Robertson, 28; and Verlander, 23, consistentlyproduce quality starts. After all, how much can Leyland achieve withoutexecution by his players?
"A goodmanager can help you relax and play the game to your potential," Youngsays. "The first time Jim was in front of us, he told us what the ruleswere, what time to be here, and then he told us a joke. We laughed, and hesaid, 'O.K., let's get to work.' You can tell from being around him that he'sgoing to bring the fresh approach we need and make us better."
Leyland's ownfresh outlook comes from spending the last six years living comfortably inPittsburgh, where he makes his home with his wife, Katie, and their twochildren (Patrick, 14, and Kellie, 12). During that time he did some scoutingfor the Cardinals, but he never got rid of the managing bug. "I didn't wantit to end the way it did for me," he says, referring to his last twoseasons in the dugout, 54--108 with the budget-slashing Marlins in '98 and72--90 with Colorado in '99. "Then I went to work for the Cardinals and sawhow good it can be when you do things the right way. I decided I really wantedanother chance."
Has Leylandregained the fire he had when he managed the Marlins to a world championship?"Well," Leyland says, smiling, "I've been getting here at 6:30 inthe morning, going back to my hotel room around 11, 11:30 at night. We'll seewhat happens, but I know I have it in me to give a lot of energy to this job.It's what I want to do."
Last year noTigers reliever saved as many as 10 games. Returning closer Todd Jones, who had40 saves for the Marlins last year, holds the Detroit team record of 42, set in2000.
a modest proposal
The Tigers bearsome resemblance to the 2005 White Sox: an offense with enough balance to makeup for a lack of stars, an underrated defense and a pitching staff with acouple of breakout candidates (23-year-old righties Jeremy Bonderman and JustinVerlander). Can Detroit make the jump into AL Central contention? The key forJim Leyland will be leaning on the kids with upside: Verlander, who had a5.2-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio at two minor league stops last year, andcenterfielder Curtis Granderson (right), 25, who had a well-rounded offensiveprofile--23 homers, 23 steals--in Triple A and the majors combined.
projected roster with 2005 statistics
fourth in ALCentral
first season withDetroit
R 141 .276 14 507
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched *Combined Class A and Double Astats
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 59)
coming to a ballpark near you this summer...
Should CarlosGuillen, who played in only 87 games last season, land on the disabled listagain, the Tigers will summon slick-fielding shortstop Tony Giarratano, 23. Adecent switch-hitter as well, Giarratano has produced a 16-game hitting streakin each of the last two seasons. And though he missed the end of last seasonwith a broken bone in his right hand, Giarratano is healthy again, as evidencedby his four hits in 11 at bats for Italy in the WBC.