Former manager Jim Leyland, who led the Florida Marlins to their first World Series title in 1997, has been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Leyland is the only candidate who received enough votes from a special committee considering managers, executives, and umpires. He will be inducted next July along with any players elected in the annual baseball writers balloting in early January,
Baseball has had many “lifers,” but few enjoyed as much success after a meager playing career as Leyland, who won three pennants as a manager, with two teams. His clubs won the pennant in 1997 (Marlins), and in 2006 and 2012 (Detroit Tigers). He won 1,769 games, including 851 with Pittsburgh and 700 with Detroit. He led three franchises to the postseason, winning six division titles, including three in a row twice.
A catcher, Leyland was signed by the Tigers out of Perrysburg High School in Pennsylvania in 1963. A weak arm and light bat kept him from making it to the big leagues, and after seven seasons in the minor leagues, Leyland accepted an offer to be a coach in the Tigers farm system. A few years later he was awarded his first managerial job, in 1971 for the Bristol (VA) Tigers. He shepherded many young players through the Tigers organization in the 1970s.
Leyland’s first job in the major leagues came on the staff of Tony La Russa with the White Sox in 1982. He was hired to be the manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates for the 1986 season. He led that team to three consecutive division titles from 1990 to 1992.
His crowning achievement was in 1997 when he managed the Marlins, in just their fifth season, to the World Series title as a wild card team. When ownership gutted the roster in the offseason, Leyland made plans to find a new position, and eventually, after a brief dalliance with Colorado, landed in Detroit.
The partnership of Dave Dombrowski and Leyland is one of the most fruitful in baseball history. The Detroit president of baseball operations lured Leyland to the Motor City in 2006. The pair had worked together with the Marlins. That decision proved to be one of the best in Tigers franchise history.
In his first season managing the team that had signed him out of high school, Leyland led the Tigers to 95 wins. His young team shocked baseball by winning the pennant, knocking off the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs. Though they lost the World Series, it proved to be the beginning of one of the best stretches in Tigers history. Under Leyland, Detroit won three division titles, and a second pennant in 2012. “Smoky” earned a reputation for wearing his heart on his sleeve, and for a no-nonsense approach to handling his players. In his Detroit tenure, he managed two MVPs and three Cy Young Award winners.
Leyland finished his career in Detroit, and his MLB managerial career in 2013, after guiding his team to the AL Championship Series for a third consecutive season. He’s been an advisor to the team since.
Leyland is the fifth Detroit manager to be elected to the Hall of Fame. The previous four are Hughie Jennings, Bucky Harris, Mickey Cochrane, and Sparky Anderson.