DETROIT - Nearly two months into the season, Perrysburg's Jim Leyland has become the toast of baseball once again.
His Detroit Tigers (29-14) had the best record in baseball entering last night's game at Kansas City against the Royals, his pitching staff the best ERA (3.26), and his team was among the league leaders in home runs (62).
Leyland, 61, has proven pretty quickly that he can still get the job done in the dugout. He isn't some old recycled has-been.
Leyland can rant and rave and scream and cuss with the best of them, as his players found out early on.
The Tigers started the season 5-0, but after skidding to 7-6 following a blowout loss to the Cleveland Indians on April 17, Leyland closed the clubhouse door for several minutes.
He let loose with an expletive-filled tirade that could be heard outside.
The Tigers got the message.
They have gone 22-8 since then.
Not only has Leyland been rejuvenated - he spent the last six years working as an advance scout for the St. Louis Cardinals after walking away from his job as manager of the Colorado Rockies in 1999, saying he was burned out after one season - so have the Tigers.
Detroit president and general manager Dave Dombrowski, who worked with Leyland in the Chicago White Sox organization and was the Florida Marlins' GM when Leyland won his World Series championship in 1997, said Leyland is managing with the same vigor he did before.
"I almost find him back to the point where he was in his heyday," Dombrowski said. "He's as good as ever."
Leyland has insisted since spring training that the Tigers - who finished 71-91 and 28 games behind the World Series champion White Sox in the AL Central under Alan Trammell - would be better.
He didn't predict Detroit's first World Series appearance or anything foolish like that, but Leyland did promise significant improvement "where hopefully we at least will be playing for something come September."
Former manager Sparky Anderson, who led the Tigers to their last World Series championship in 1984, used to break the season down into four 40-game segments.
Leyland, who often sleeps on the couch in his office at Comerica Park, refuses to do that. He bases his final critique on the entire 162-game season, not a hot start.
Leyland is not interested in long-term forecasting.
Remember, this franchise hasn't had a winning season in 13 years and hasn't been in the postseason for 19 years.
"My goal is to get people in the seats and get them interested in Tigers baseball, that's the goal for the year," he said. "I don't have any goals for wins, and I don't have any goals for losses, and I don't have any goals for where we finish. I just want to play well and get people back interested in baseball. Whatever happens, happens. That's how I'm looking at it.
"At the end of the year, I'm going to say, 'Did we have a good season, a bad season, or a mediocre season?' I'm interested in a good season over the long haul, and that's what we're trying to accomplish here. We want to be competitive on a daily basis, and the rest of it will take care of itself."
So far, Leyland's formula has been working wonderfully.
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