DETROIT — When Jim Leyland announced his retirement as manager of the Tigers Monday, his reflections on his baseball career eventually took him back to his hometown of Perrysburg.
“I have been so lucky — this has been 50 years in baseball,” Leyland said. “You’re talking about a guy who hit .222 in the minor leagues, got released, and thought he was going to go back to Perrysburg and work.
“And 50 years later, I’ve managed the Detroit Tigers, and I’ve managed a team that won a World Series? This has been unbelievable, and I’m just going to cherish it.”
Leyland, who will turn 69 in December, retired after eight seasons as Tigers manager, during which he led Detroit to a 700-597 record and four postseason appearances, including three straight Central Division titles and a pair of World Series berths.
Leyland’s win total in Detroit is the third-highest in franchise history, and he joins Hughie Jennings and Mickey Cochrane as the only managers to lead the Tigers to multiple World Series.
Leyland, who will take a yet-to-be-determined position in the Tigers’ organization, said he told Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski of his intention to retire on Sept. 7, when the two met for coffee while the team was in Kansas City.
“I said, ‘Dave, I don’t know what your plans are for manager next year,’ and he said, ‘You’re my manager,’” Leyland explained. “And I said, well, I’m not going to be the manager.
“It’s time [to retire]. It’s not fair to this organization, to the players, to Mr. [owner Mike] Ilitch, or to the fans or anyone else to go on. The fuel was starting to get low.”
After the meeting Dombrowski told only Ilitch, while Leyland told his wife Katie, coach Gene Lamont, and longtime friend Tony LaRussa. Leyland said he sought LaRussa’s counsel on how to handle the decision in the best manner for both he and the organization.
Leyland didn’t tell his team until after the Tigers’ 5-2 loss to the Red Sox in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series Saturday, a setback that ended Detroit’s season as Boston advanced to the World Series.
“I didn’t know how to take it when [the players] clapped,” Leyland said jokingly. “You could hear a pin drop. …
“[The reaction of] Justin Verlander was very special, and I think that’s because he was here all eight years with me. Normally I don’t think he even likes me, but he told me he loved me. He was touched, and that touched me.”
Don Kelly, who has spent at least part of the last five seasons under Leyland in Detroit, said he was surprised by the move.
“During the season he had the fire, the energy, the passion that he always had,” Kelly said. “It was a shock on Saturday.”
Leyland had nothing but praise for Ilitch as an owner and Dombrowski as a general manager.
“I can’t express what a thrill it has been to work for Mr. Ilitch,” Leyland said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better owner than Mike Ilitch. It just doesn’t happen.
“And I’m prejudiced, but I think [Dombrowski] is the best executive in the baseball business. The reason I say that is because I know he has a great talent for hiring managers.”
Dombrowski said the feelings of the organization toward Leyland were mutual.
“These last eight years have been a very memorable time for the Detroit Tigers organization,” Dombrowski said. “We will miss him on the field and in the dugout.
“His achievements speak for themselves, especially when you see where he ranks. And not just in Detroit Tigers history but in major league history. ...
“The next guy who comes in here is going to have some tough shoes to fill.”
Leyland spent 22 years as a major-league manager, including 11 seasons in Pittsburgh (1986-96), two in Florida (1997-98), and one in Colorado (1999). His 1,769 career victories rank 15th-best all-time, and he led the Marlins to the World Series title in 1997.
Mud Hens president and general manager Joe Napoli said Detroit’s Triple-A affiliate wished Leyland nothing but the best.
"A handful of people have accomplished all that Jim Leyland has in his 50-year career,” Napoli said. “He has always been the complete professional, and we have always looked forward to his annual visits to Toledo to meet our fans at Fandemonium.”
Leyland said he wasn’t tempted to return as Tigers manager next season in the hunt for a second World Series title.
“It would have been totally selfish on my part [to return],” he said. “I would have been coming back for the wrong reasons.
“I’ve never been a guy who takes a paycheck if I didn’t think I could do it. And this job entails a lot more than people think — there’s a lot more than writing out a lineup and pulling a pitcher.
“I was a little bit low on fuel, and I could see this coming. The trips were starting to get tough.”
Leyland said one thing he will miss about the job is the daily contact with players and coaches.
“You develop relationships over the years,” he said. “I want to thank all the players I’ve had over the years, because I have a lot of respect for them.
“I’ll miss the competition. But it’s become such a tiring job, especially at my age. And there are media responsibilities, as well as helping players with personal problems. This job entails so much, I won’t miss some of that stressful stuff you have to go through.”
Leyland promised early in the news conference that he would not cry, but he came close once.
“I could never imagine the thrills that I had in the last eight years,” he said, choking back tears. “To be retired for eight years, then get a chance to manage in the organization I was ‘born’ in is an unbelievable thrill.”
But Leyland turned serious when asked about his biggest achievement in Detroit.
“I came here to turn talent into a team,” he said. “And I think we did that.”