LOS ANGELES – This, Jim Leyland insisted, was it.
After leading the United States to its first World Baseball Classic title on Wednesday night, Leyland said the triumph would be the final act of his long career.
“I’m not wearing any baseball uniform anymore, I can tell you that,” Leyland said on Wednesday night. “I guess people have heard it before. But, you know, I’m done. When I say that, if I went to the rookie league somewhere and hit some ground balls or fungos or something . . . but there is a good chance this is the last time I’ll every wear a baseball uniform.
“Who really cares, to be honest with you,” he added, drawing laughter.
Leyland tried to make this World Baseball Classic about his players, and the memories he wanted them to take from it. There was, however, no separating this group, made up of players from all across the major leagues, and the man who in short order brought them together as a team capable of winning the WBC title that had for so long been out of the Americans’ reach.
“He was awesome,” said Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich. “He cares about each and every one of us. It meant a lot to him for us to go out there and play the game the right way. Go out there and represent our country well, that’s what he told us after the game.”
Leyland, 72, has been in the game since signing with the Detroit Tigers in 1962. He later managed in the club’s farm system. He took his first MLB coaching job in 1982 with the Chicago White Sox, and his first managerial job in 1986 with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Leyland managed the Pirates (1986-1996), Florida Marlins (1997-1998), Colorado Rockies (1999) and the Tigers (2006-2013) during his career. He won the World Series with the Marlins in 1997, and took the Tigers to the Fall Classic in 2006 and 2012. He was National League Manager of the Year in 1990 and 1992 and won the award in the American League in 2006.
He came out of retirement to lead Team USA at the WBC and became the first man to guide the squad to the championship, which he dedicated to members of the military, appearing to become choked up as he spoke during the postgame news conference.
“I’ve been retired for three years and I’m going to stay retired,” he said. “That I can promise you.
“But, I think I said this on the podium, I think this is the best part about it, I had the honor of managing our country. The coaches have the honor of coaching for our country and the players have the honor of playing for our country. But this is really about the men and women’s that serve our country. That’s who this is for.”
Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman, the WBC MVP, said it was a joy to play for Leyland.
“I have so much respect for Mr. Leyland,” Stroman said. “He’s the man. I’ve never played for such a down-to-earth, humble, confident manager. He is able to rile us up in the perfect ways. I feel like every word he says is calculated and perfect and he knows how to get us going.”
When Leyland was jokingly reminded of a similar pledge to retire after managing the Rockies, he held firm to his promise.
“I understand that, but, like I said, I’ll be 73 years old. That’s enough, let somebody else do it.”
If this was indeed his final act, he went out on top.
“I enjoyed playing for him,” Yelich said. “I think all the guys did. There is a reason why he’s such a great manager. It’s a shame that he’s leaving the game of baseball per se. At least we got to send him out on top, if this is his last one, and we’re happy for him.”
Though, not everyone was ready to give up on him just yet.
“We’ll bring him back in four years,” Stroman chimed in.