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Perrotto: Decision Shows Jim Leyland’s Affection for Pittsburgh

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Jim Leyland

Pittsburgh Pirates fans feel that Jim Leyland is one of their own.

Leyland managed the Pirates for 11 seasons from 1986-96 and led them to three straight National League East titles from 1990-92. They haven’t finished in first place in the ensuing 31 seasons.

Furthermore, Leyland has continued to call Pittsburgh home nearly three decades after leaving the Pirates. He has been part of the western Pennsylvania scene for so long that it’s easy to forget that he was born and raised in Perrysburg, Ohio, rather than here.

Detroit Tigers fans like to think that Leyland is one of their own.

Leyland managed the Tigers for eight seasons from 2006-2013 and guided them to two World Series. He also spent his entire seven-year playing career in Detroit’s farm system and 11 more years managing Tigers’ farm teams.

When Leyland was elected to the Hall of Fame two months ago, I asked him at the Winter Meetings in Nashville which team would be represented on the cap of his plaque in Cooperstown.  Not surprisingly, Leyland couldn’t answer the question.

“That’s a tough one,” he said.

Leyland spent just two seasons with the then-Florida Marlins but won his lone World Series championship in his first year in 1997. He managed only one season with the Colorado Rockies in 1999 before stepping away from managing for six years.

Leyland, in conjunction with the Hall of Fame, made the cap decision on Friday. His cap will be blank as a nod to both the Tigers and Pirates as well as the Marlins and – kinda, sorta – the Rockies.

“I will always appreciate the teams that gave me the opportunity to be their major league manager,” Leyland said in a statement issued by the hall. “We had some great moments with every one of those ballclubs, and I’m proud that they all will be mentioned on my Hall of Fame plaque. I want to make sure I show each of those teams respect, and this does that.”

It is a classy gesture by Leyland, who will be inducted on July 21 with Adrian Beltre, Todd Helton and Joe Mauer. He knew he would hurt either the fanbases of the Pirates or Tigers, depending on which team he chose for his cap.

Some Pirates’ fans are up in arms on social media about Leyland’s decision. One reason is that social media is a haven for people to complain. Secondly, the segment of fans complaining feel scorned by Leyland for not choosing the Pirates.

The argument is that the Pirates gave Leyland his first chance to manage in the major leagues and he was their manager for three more years than he was Tigers’ manager. Both are valid points but not strong enough for him to pick the Pirates over the Tigers.

A much sturdier case can be made for Leyland wearing a Tigers’ cap. Add in the fact that he has spent the 10 years since walking away as a manager as a special assistant in the Tigers’ baseball operations department, He has been a part of the Detroit organization for 34 years.

That’s more than three times longer than he spent with the Pirates.

Thus, Leyland being remembered with a blank cap is a tribute to Pittsburgh and the Pirates rather than a snub.

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