Hall of Fame election sinks in for Jim Leyland
Less than 24 hours after entering baseball’s Valhalla with news of his Hall of Fame election, Jim Leyland shared his thoughts on joining the most exclusive club in the sport.
“Excited to be nominated. Ecstatic to be elected,” Leyland said to begin his press conference the day after his Hall of Fame election during the Winter Meetings. “When I got the call, which I really wasn't expecting to get to be honest with you, I got the word that it was going to be possibly from 6:30 to 7:15 was the timeframe. And about 10 minutes to seven I left the family room with my family and went up to lay on the bed a little bit thinking about it, figuring I probably did not make it.
“My wife and my son were coming up the stairs just when I got the call. And my wife and my son heard a lady's voice on the other end. My wife said, ‘Who is that?’ I said, ‘It’s Jake from State Farm.’”
The woman on the line with the career-altering news was, in fact, Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Forbes Clark.
Leyland guided the Pirates, Marlins, Rockies and Tigers for 22 years, winning 1,769 games, six division titles, three pennants and the 1997 World Series. He was named Manager of the Year three times, becoming one of eight skippers to win the award in both leagues. While guiding the Pirates for 11 seasons, he led the team to three straight first-place finishes in 1990, ‘91 and ’92, winning at least 95 games each of those years and finishing his tenure with 851 victories, third most in franchise history.
In 1997, his first year managing the Florida Marlins, he piloted the team to a World Series title, posting an 11-5 record in the postseason. He would return to the World Series with Detroit in 2006 and 2012.
“To end up in Cooperstown after starting as not a very good player, minor league manager,” Leyland said. “I don't want to get corny, but it's unbelievable. I've never had any thoughts of going to Cooperstown. It's a remarkable accomplishment. I guess I'm bragging a little bit, but I'm very proud of it. And I'm very humbled by it. But I am extremely proud to have gotten that call. Not many people get that. It's hard to get that call.”
The election of Leyland — the first member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2024 — brings the total to 343 members of the Cooperstown shrine. The Contemporary Baseball Era ballot consisted of candidates whose most significant career impacts were realized from 1980 through the present.
“You never know how this was going to work out,” Leyland said. “You respect the process. You respect the people that are going to make their decision. And there's one thing about this for sure. The Hall of Fame carries so much integrity, that it's going to be done right.
“And that's why I'm so proud today. This is not an easy place to get. It's not an easy place to get for a superstar player or a manager. This is a tough place to get. And to end up here, and the light here at the end of the career, is awful special. And it's very tough to get here.”
The longtime manager with a World Series title and 1,769 career wins was among the eight former managers, executives and umpires that comprised the Contemporary Baseball Era ballot that was voted upon at the Baseball Winter Meetings in Nashville on December 3. The 16-member Contemporary Baseball Era Committee elected Leyland, who was named on 15 of 16 ballots, as the only candidate to reach the 75-percent threshold necessary for election.
Others on the ballot included Lou Piniella (11 votes, 68.8%) and Bill White (10 votes, 62.5%), as well as Cito Gaston, Davey Johnson, Ed Montague, Hank Peters and Joe West, who each received fewer than five votes.
Leyland, 78, will be joined in the Hall of Fame Class of 2024 by any electees who emerge from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America voting, which will be announced on January 23. The 2024 Induction Weekend is scheduled for July 19-22, with the Induction Ceremony on July 21.
“They were kind of prepping me maybe thinking down the road about my speech,” Leyland said. “One thing I'm going to try to do is I'm going to try to group more people together instead of talking about 78 people that helped me. I want to pay my respects, but I think people get a little bored when you do that. So, I'm going to try to figure out in the next couple of months how to try to group that together where I can still pay my respects to the proper people, but not bore everybody in the audience. So that's what I'm going to try to do.”
Asked what, if any, team logo would appear on his Hall of Fame plaque, Leyland demurred somewhat.
“I'm not really sure,” Leyland said. “I'm going to be discussing that with the Hall of Fame and I'm going to take their advice on something like that. When you manage several teams, I do not want to disrespect anybody that I managed for. So, I'm hoping that the Hall of Fame will help me along with that. Possibly with no logo. I'm not sure just yet. That's a bridge we’ll cross a little later. But the one thing I won't do is I won't show disrespect to any team that I managed. So, we'll see how that plays out. Not decided yet.”
At the Dec. 4 press conference in Nashville, the dais included Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Forbes Clark, Hall of Fame President Josh Rawitch and Leyland. In the audience were a few of Leyland’s new Hall of Fame teammates, including Ted Simmons, Jim Thome, Joe Torre, Tony La Russa and Alan Trammell.
Early in the press conference, Leyland was presented with the uniform of his new team, which included a dark blue cap sporting the Hall of Fame logo as well as a white jersey with “Hall of Fame” emblazoned across the front in red script.
“And today he now joins the Baseball Hall of Fame team and our class of 2024. Congratulations, Jim,” Clark said after reciting a list of his accomplishments.
Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
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