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Perrotto: Evaluating Jim Leyland’s Hall of Fame Case



Jim Leyland, Pittsburgh Pirates

Jim Leyland is getting his first shot at immortality.

The former Pittsburgh Pirates manager is one of eight men on the ballot for the Hall of Fame Contemporary Era Committee for managers, executives and umpires.

The 16-member committee will meet on Dec. 3 during baseball’s Winter Meetings in Nashville and 75% of the vote is needed for election. The Hall of Fame has not yet selected the committee members.

Leyland is one of four retired managers on the ballot with Cito Gaston, Davey Johnson and Lou Piniella. Also included are former National League President Bill White, retired general manager Hank Peters and umpires Ed Montague and Joe West.

Leyland, 78 spent the first 11 seasons of his managerial career with the Pirates from 1986-96. Though leaving to become the Miami Marlins’ manager angered some fans, Leyland is still quite popular in the Pittsburgh area.

Despite growing up in Perrysburg, Ohio, a suburb of Toledo. Leyland has lived in the Pittsburgh area full-time ever since replacing Chuck Tanner as the Pirates’ manager prior to the 1986 season.

Leyland’s wife, Katie, is a native of Greensburg, and both of their now-grown children were born and raised in Western Pennsylvania.

A case can be made that Leyland should be immortalized in Cooperstown. He compiled a 1,769-1,728 regular-season record over 22 years with the Pirates (1986-96), Marlins (1997-98), Colorado Rockies (1999) and Detroit Tigers (2006-13).

Leyland’s crowning achievement came in 1997 when he guided the Marlins to a World Series title in his first season in South Florida on the heels of a large spending spree by owner Wayne Huizenga the previous offseason.

With the Tigers, Leyland went to the World Series twice. However, his teams came up short in both 2006 and 2012.

Leyland also won six division titles, including three straight American League Central crowns with the Tigers at the end of his career.

Of more importance to Pirates’ fans, Leyland is the last manager to lead the franchise to a division championship. The Pirates won the National League East three years in a row from 1990-92. It has now been 31 years since the Pirates finished in first place.

Leyland had a losing record with the Pirates, going 851-863 in his 11 seasons. However, his Pittsburgh career needs to be put in greater context to understand his impact on the Pirates went beyond his record.

The Pirates had lost 104 games in 1985 and came close to leaving town. During the final month of the season, they played under the cloud of the Pittsburgh drug trials, which took place in a federal court just across the Allegheny River from Three Rivers Stadium.

The Pirates hired Syd Thrift as general manager after the 1985 season, even though he had been out of baseball and was selling real estate in Virginia. Thrift, in turn, hired Leyland, who was a little-known third base coach with the Chicago White Sox.

It was almost universally considered the worst situation in baseball.

The Pirates went 64-98 in Leyland’s first season then improved to 80-82 in 1987 and 85-75 in 1988. After an injury-plagued 1989 season in which the Pirates finished 74-88, the Pirates broke through with the first of their three division titles the following year.

The Pirates had gone from laughingstock to division championships in five years. Leyland had a lot to do with it because he was their unquestioned leader, whether it was using a fiery approach to motivate his players or his sensitive side that created stability in the clubhouse.

Leyland never won a postseason series as the Pirates lost in the National League Championship Series each year from 1990-92 and some fans have never gotten past that. His overall record in Pittsburgh got dinged when ownership allowed most of the key players from the championship teams to leave via free agency, greatly diminishing the Pirates’ ability to compete.

However, Leyland’s ability to help resuscitate a franchise from the dead shouldn’t be downplayed. Nor should the fact that he managed three World Series teams.

That sure sounds like a Hall of Famer.

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