Jim Leyland: From the Midwest League to the Majors
By George Kampling of the Clinton Herald (published in 1991)
How different is managing a team in the National League playoffs than managing a team in the Midwest League playoffs?
According to Pittsburgh Pirates manager Jim Leyland, manager of the Clinton Pilots for three years during the 1970's, the major differences are the size of the stadium, a larger crowd, and the monetary remuneration.
"It's amazing, but when I look at it in perspective, taking Clinton into the Midwest League playoffs against Wisconsin Rapids in 1973 was a highlight of my career," said Leyland amid preparations for the 1991 season.
"It seems that when I was at Clinton, the farthest thing imaginable was managing in the 'bigs" (Major Leagues). Getting here, and reflecting back, it doesn't seem that long ago."
The 1990 season was Jim Leyland's fifth as manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. He made it a memorable one by guiding the club to a 95-67 record and its first National League Eastern Division title in 11 years. The season came to a close when the Pirates lost a hard-fought and exciting series to the eventual World Champion Cincinnati Reds, four games to two.
His efforts did not go unnoticed as he was named the National League Manager of the Year by both the Baseball Writers Association of America and the Sporting News (manager's poll).
Leyland was also named Dapper Dan Manager of the Year, an award given annually to a Pittsburgh sports figure in recognition of an outstanding achievement on a national level.
Leyland's overall record in five seasons with the Bucs is 398-410 (.492 winning percentage). He was given a two-year contract extension on Oct. 12, 1990 and is now signed through the end of the 1993 season.
"It doesn't seem that long ago when we would stop the bus to pick up "Growler" (Earl Fenn) on our way to Cedar Rapids or Davenport. I don't want to sound too corny, but the minors (minor leagues) are the heart and soul of baseball.
"It's amazing when I look back...we charter a plane to fly, or take the subway in New York when there are millions of people...I can still see corn fields and only a few buildings here or there between Clinton and Cedar Rapids or Burlington.
"There are thousands of people all over and it's the same game - but I'll never forget those days. In 20 years I'll not forget the likes of Jim Wagner, Ron LeFlore, Phil Mankowski, 'Spider' (Art) James, Billy Baldwin, Eddie Glynn. They were a good group and through it all, a lot of fun.
"I enjoyed that time, the only bad time was each night when they had to spray for bugs (mosquito spraying time about the fifth inning). It got so foggy on the field you couldn't see. And another time I remember Fritz (General Manager Fritz Colschen) trying to pick up a hog and put it in the back of a pickup truck for some promotion or other. But that was all part of growing up."
Leyland added, "I can remember my first day managing at Clinton in 1972. We played at Davenport and there was a snow fence all around the field (inside the fence) because of the flood. I also remember my small office and throwing a chair through the window of it once and (trainer) Ken Houston picking it up.
"If I remember right, I made $7,200 as a manager that first year - now we get more than that in meal money at spring training."
The Pirates' skipper had this to say about today's higher-than-skyscraper salaries.
"One thing you learn as a manager, you're just the field manager. Contract talks are between them (players) and the club. You don't comment about them, if you get involved you're going to lose.
"Once the contract talk is over they come in here and play their tails off - nobody is pouting.
"Sometimes fans get upset with the salaries but they have to remember that as long as it (salaries) doesn't hurt their pocketbook they're not hurt. Even though salaries are high it's still a reasonable ticket (price)."
Leyland is looking at the season with a shiny outlook.
"I can't hardly wait until we get started," he said. "I usually relax during the winter months but this year I've been so busy with banquets I'm circuited out. I can't wait until I get the uniform on and do what I do best.
"It's hard to repeat, but not because of a lack of motivation. It's a thrill to win your division. Now we would like to win the World Series. One day, hopefully, we can do that.
"Last yaer we did have a good solid yea rand won more games than anyone except Oakland. This year it is certainly our goal again. We lost some players to free agency but it wasn't a total wipeout, we still have an outstanding nucleus back. We'll look around and make a trade here or there and before training is over the holes will be filled."
A catcher during his playing days, Leyland signed his first professional contract with Detroit in the fall of 1963. He served that organization as a player, minor league coach and minor league manager until joining the Chicago White Sox in 1982.
After six seasons as a player he was appointed coach at Montgomery (AA) in the Southern League in 1970. He received his first managerial assignment at the age of 26 in 1971. He managed at Clinton, Montgomery and Lakeland before spending three seasons with the Tigers' Evansville (AAA) club in the American Association.
His teams advanced to the playoffs in five of his last six seasons in the minors, winning three league championships. All together his clubs made six post-season appearances in his 11 years at the minor league level. He was Manager of the Year in the Florida State League twice and once in the American Association.
Leyland and his wife Katie have lived in the Pittsburgh area sine his appointment. He has been honored by the Arthritis Foundation as Man-of-the-Year, by Vector's of Pittsburgh as Man-of-the-Year in Sports during the 1988-89 off season, as the Epilepsy Foundation's Man-of-the-Year and served as Christmas Chairman for the Salvation Army during the 1990-91 off season. When there is time he also enjoys hunting trips during off-season.
"At times it seems like ages," said Leyland. "But I can tell you this much, I have always had a place in my heart for Clinton and the many friends there. I will never forget it."