Leyland "thrilled, excited, surprised" to earn Hall of Fame election
Former big league manager Jim Leyland, who shined on the game’s biggest stage with a World Series title on his resume, will find himself being honored on a different stage this coming summer.
Leyland, a minor league catcher who made it as high as Double-A before embarking on a 22-season career as a skipper in the majors with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Florida Marlins, Colorado Rockies and Detroit Tigers, was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, Dec. 3. He becomes the 23rd manager honored in Cooperstown.
One of eight candidates the 16-member Contemporary Baseball Era Committee considered, Leyland was named on 15 of 16 ballots – ballots consisting of managers, executives and umpires – as the only candidate to reach the 75-percent threshold necessary for election.
In making the announcement live on MLB Network, Hall of Fame President Josh Rawitch read off a list of accomplishments before ending with, “Jim, welcome to Cooperstown.”
During a Zoom call with reporters after learning of his election, a relieved Leyland was given a chance to make an opening remark: “Well, I’d just like to say how excited I am and how proud I am to be elected to Cooperstown at the Baseball Hall of Fame. It’s the highest honor you can get in our business and I'm just thrilled, excited, surprised, flattered. All those words come into play when you're thinking about this. So very excited about it and a very happy evening for me and my family.”
The Contemporary Baseball Era Committee, which held its meeting on Sunday, Dec. 3, in Nashville, Tenn., considered a ballot of eight candidates whose most significant career impact was realized from 1980 through the present.
“I'm almost ashamed to say that I didn't really take it that serious to start with because I didn't really think I had a chance,” Leyland said about this election. “And then as it started to get a little bit closer, I did get a little excited about it. A little nervous about it.
“Today, it seemed like time passed so fast until about the last half hour or the last hour before they were going to make an announcement. And then everything just slowed down. So, it was exciting. I was nervous about it. But to be honest with you, I really didn't think I was going to get in. So, I really wasn't that upset about it or that concerned about it, but the heart did start beating about 6:30 when I didn't get a call. I finally got the call at 10 minutes to seven. It was racing pretty good.”
Leyland admitted to a few tears when the Hall of Fame called.
“I went up to actually lay in a bed because I didn't get the call. So about 10 minutes to seven - they told us it would be between 6:30 and 7:15 - but I thought when I didn't get it by quarter of seven it wasn't going to happen. So, I went up just to rest a minute and kind of get my thoughts together. And when my son came up, the phone rang, and it was the Hall of Fame. I couldn't believe it. And there was definitely a tear in my eye.”
According to Leyland, he’s had the opportunity to visit Cooperstown a few times in his life.
“I went, obviously, when Tony La Russa was inducted into the Hall of Fame. I coached for Tony. And a little bit deeper than that, my son played at the Dreams Park up there at Cooperstown when he was 12 years old. So, I’ve been up there quite a bit,” Leyland recalled. “So, I've been around it a little bit, but I've tried to stay away from it as much as I could. I just didn't think it was a place to hang around someday possibly being a candidate. I didn't want to do that.”
Leyland, who celebrates his 79th birthday on Dec. 15, ended his managerial career with 1,769 victories – which currently ranks 18th all time – along with six first-place finishes, three pennants and the 1997 World Series title with the Marlins. A three-time Manager of the Year winner – twice with the Pirates in 1990 and 1992 and again with the Tigers in 2006 – Leyland’s team also finished second five times. He finished in the Top 2 of his league’s Manager of the Year voting six times.
He was a Chicago White Sox coach from 1982 to 1985 before taking over as the Pirates manager in 1986, a Bucs franchise he led for 11 seasons and won three division titles. After a two-season stint with the Marlins, where he won the 1997 World Series, he spent a lone year with the Rockies in 1999.
Taking over the managerial duties of the Tigers in 2006, Leyland led the team to a surprise wild card berth and World Series appearance in 2006. After eight years with the Tigers, which included four postseason berths, two pennants and three division crowns, Leyland retired after the 2013 campaign.
His major league managing career ends with a 1,769-1,728 record in 22 years with eight postseason appearances, three pennants and a World Series title.
Having spent the entirety of his adult life in the game, Leyland does have strong feelings about what the Hall of Fame represents.
“It’s the final stop, really, as far as your baseball career goes. And to land there in Cooperstown it doesn't get any better than that,” Leyland said. “I mean, that's the ultimate. I certainly never thought it was going to happen. Most people probably don't. But it did. And I'm sure I'm going to enjoy it.”
Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum