The Florida Marlins’ 1997 World Series championship was led by longtime manager Jim Leyland, who was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday.
During a meeting of the Hall’s contemporary baseball era committee, which looked at the cases of managers, umpires, and executives whose greatest contributions came after 1980, Leyland was mentioned on 15 of 16 ballots.
To be enshrined, a nominee had to appear on a minimum of 12 ballots. Former manager Lou Piniella, who appeared on 11 ballots, came up just short. 10 ballots had Executive Bill White on them. Umpires Ed Montague and Joe West, executive Hank Peters, and managers Cito Gaston and Davey Johnson were also taken into consideration.
Leyland is set to become the 23rd manager to be inducted into the Hall of Fame and the first since Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa, and Bobby Cox were honored in 2014. Leyland was asked to summarize the lessons he aimed to instill in his players over the years. Leyland began his major league career as a coach under LaRussa with the Chicago White Sox.
“I tried to impress upon them what it was to be a professional and how tough this game is to play,” Leyland stated. “And I told them almost every day how good there were.”
Leyland’s playing career ended in 1970, and he never made it above Double-A as a minor league catcher. However, during a lengthy managerial career that started in the minor leagues in 1971, he more than made up for that. He signed a big league contract in 1986 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and over the course of his 22-year big league career, which concluded in 2013 with the Detroit Tigers, he won 1,769 games. 18th on the list of all-time managerial victories is him.
Among managers who never made it to the major leagues as players, only Hall of Famer Joe McCarthy won more games. Leyland initially believed that the call, which had been anticipated for 60 years, would not come as he waited for it from Hall of Fame chairperson Jane Forbes Clark on Sunday. Then it actually did.
“I thought when I didn’t get [the call] by a quarter of seven, it wasn’t going to happen,” Leyland stated. “So I went up just to rest a minute and get my thoughts together. When my son came up, the phone rang and it was the Hall of Fame. I couldn’t believe it. There was definitely a tear in my eye.”
Throughout his career, Leyland managed a number of elite athletes, such as Barry Bonds and Miguel Cabrera, two of baseball’s greatest players. Even though the elite players held him in high regard, he was regarded as a captain who treated everyone equally in his clubhouse.
Leyland remarked, “All the good managers realize it takes 24–25 guys.” “It takes one heartbeat to sustain. I try to communicate with everybody.”
Leyland, who was well-known for his charmingly sarcastic demeanor and undershirt-wearing, smoke-filled pregame news conferences, reached his zenith when he was part of the 1997 Marlins, a costly team that was built to win quickly. Leyland guided a group of superstars that included Bobby Bonilla, Moises Alou, Kevin Brown, Gary Sheffield, and others, and the Marlins eventually defeated Cleveland in a seven-game World Series.
Following the dissolution of the Marlins team, Leyland managed the Colorado Rockies for a single season before concluding his final eight the Tigers. Detroit made four postseason appearances and won two pennants (in 2006 and 2012) during his leadership.
Three times, twice in the National League (1990 and 1992) and once in the American League (2006), Leyland was named Manager of the Year.
Leyland, 78, will be admitted to Cooperstown, New York’s Hall of Fame on July 21. It will be the pinnacle accomplishment of 60 years in the professional game when he is acknowledged as one of the game’s immortals next summer, having first signed with the Tigers organization in 1964.
“It’s the final stop, really, as far as your baseball career goes,” Leyland stated. “To end up and land there at Cooperstown? It doesn’t get any better. I mean, that’s the ultimate.”