Spending a morning with Jim Leyland…

I’m absolutely certain there are better ways to spend a morning than to hear Jim Leyland talk baseball, and if you give me a couple of hours, I’ll think of one or two. Until then, here are some Thursday highlights from the incomparable and irrepressible Jim Leyland:

On handling expectations…

 “You don’t say stupid stuff. We’re not kids. People talk about bulletin-board staff. You think the White Sox or Red Sox or anyone else… They’re not worried about us. This is the big leagues. Believe me.’’

On youth…

“We’re a young team. A lot of people don’t realize that. We’re not some old veteran team. Boesch is young, Jackson is young, Avila is young, Delmon Young is young, Cabrera’s young, Fielder’s young. Our pitching staff is young. We’re not some old crusty team. The manager might be a little crusty, according to you guys.”

On expectations…

“I want the fans fired up. I like it when people are fired up about the team. You’ve got a lot of stories. You’ve got the best of both worlds. If we do good, it’s fun for you. If we don’t, you can rip the bleep out of us. You’ve got a story no matter what. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s just the way it is. We do what we do, and you guys do what you do. I think it’s great. I’m glad there’s going to be getting a little more national attention. That’s fine. It’ll be good for some of these young guys to know how to handle it.”

On Justin Verlander…

“First of all, he takes great care of himself. He’s got a tremendous lower half. All the good power pitchers I’ve known over the years–Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens–all had strong legs. And his legs are strong. If you look at his upper body, it’s really not that big. That’s kind of a good thing. He’s got that loose arm with a strong foundation. He’s one of the special ones. That’s just the way it is. He’s a little bit different.

“I think people get carried away with us extending him a little bit. If he throws 125 pitches, that’s a walk in the park for him. You watch him from time to time, or if you see some sign he’s fatigued, you watch it. We watch all our pitchers. The thing he has learned handle a little bit better. he’s learned how to get quicker outs earlier. There were a lot of games that is pitch count was really darn good.

“I really trust him. Our pitchers are pretty good. When I tell ‘em that’s enough, if they know they’ve had enough, they’re really good. But there are days they say, `I’m really fine. I’m good.’

“He’s probably the talent I’ve ever had. I wasn’t sure he’s the best pitcher. He’s gone over the hump. He’s the best pitcher I’ve ever had. It’s that simple.”

“I think one of his things is that he has matured so much mentally. He’s figuring things out. How to get easier outs. How to handle all the attention. This guy has done a good a job of handling all this stuff as anybody I’ve ever been around. I’m proud of him. I had nothing to do with it.

“That’s not easy to do. When everybody wants a piece of you. I’ll tell you what, he’s got tunnel vision. There’s no question about that. He knows. He’s got it down. I think I’ve read where those Phillies guys talk about Halladay. He doesn’t ever deviate. This Tuesday I’ve got to throw on the side today. Boom, I’m throwing on the side today. That’s where Justin has really picked up. In between starts, he has really picked up his concentration.”

On the best hitter he has had…

“If you really got down to it, I thought about this. I’ve probably slighted this guy, not for any reason in particular. I was thinking about that this winter. Probably the best player–total tools–was Larry Walker. Run. Throw. Hit. Hit with power. A great baserunner.

“He was a tremendous player. I’m not saying his results were better than anybody’s. I’m not saying he’s the best player. But if you looked at the five tools–because Barry’s arm wasn’t quite as good–Larry Walker might be the best that I’ve had. He was a tremendous instinctive player. But Verlander, I’ve never really seen a guy throwing 95-96, 92-93, with a great change, and in the eighth inning, with a 101 mph in your pocket.”

On Rick Porcello…

“When something doesn’t go right, it sends a red flag to you guys, but it doesn’t to me. I know, like in Porcello’s case, he went through the good, he went through the bad and he went through the in-between. He’s settled in. I think he’s really going to be good this year. I can’t make those things happen for ‘em. They have to experience ‘em. It’s very important to learn how to handle both ends of the spectrum–success and failure. When they get through that, they kind of level off and get to what they’re supposed to be. You can’t stuff a two-, three-year player into a six-seven year player. You just have to let some things happen.”

On the Tigers defense…

“I think our defense is pretty good. I think Jhonny Peralta is one of the most underrated shortstops in the big leagues. They can say what they want. They can take ‘em all. Is he going to make an acrobatic play like an Andrus or somebody else? Probably not. But I know one thing. In the ninth inning with the bases loaded and two outs and we’ve got a one-run lead, I like it when it’s hit to him. I’ll take that every time.

“I think we’ll catch what we’re supposed to, and we’ll throw it accurately. I think there’s a lot to be said for that. I think we’re better defensively than people think. The other side of that coin–I’ve told everybody and I’m going to say it one last time–we won the World Series–and I’m not talking about winning the World Series; I’m not making any predictions–in 1997, we won the World Series with Bobby Bonilla playing third base. Everybody said that would never happen.

“That’s the end of it. I’m not going to be talking about it. If you guys sit in here and think–of I sit here and think, more importantly–there’s not going to be a ball get by once in awhile, we’re all crazy. I’m not going to make a big deal out of it. Some of you guys will. Some of you guys won’t. As a manager, you put people there and accept what you might get.

“Everybody’s always looking for perfect players. There’s not very many. They want a Gold Glover at third, a Gold Glover at short and they want 25 home runs and knocks in 120 runs. If everybody had those, it’d be boring. I talked to the amateur scouts yesterday. If you’re waiting to sign that perfect player, by the time you’re done scouting, you’ve going to have a lot of ink in your pen.”

On Austin Jackson…

“He’s a tremendous center fielder and one of the big keys to our team. If you look last year, when we got going, our club really got going. He tailed off, and our club kept going. He makes us go. We’re not a very fast team. He excites fans. It’s nice to see a triple. It’s exciting. It’s my dad’s favorite play.”

3 Comments

I love the last sentence.

Leyland’s dad would have hated Johnny Estrada.

I became aware of two remarkable stats recently.

Only one regular DH hit more than 20 HRs last year. What does Leyland think about the difficulty of managing in the AL over the NL when the DH seems less significant than most, well at least me, would have thought?

This is in addition to some former managers who managed in both leagues who have said that the NL is still more difficult. I refer primarily to Art Howe.

Be nice to have asked this future HOFer what he thought. Maybe you did. Nobody tells me anything.

The other stat is there seems to be two types of people in this world. Those who think there are two types of people in this world and those who don’t.

And tell your bosses to make your blog more visible. It is buried too deep in this website.

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