NEW YORK -- Once was the time when Jim Leyland wasn't quite so comfortable in this city as he is these days. He never has been afflicted with an Ed Whitson aversion to the insomniac city. But for one period of Leyland's professional life, he found little enjoyment in the five boroughs, particularly Queens. The first teams Leyland managed in the big leagues had the buoyancy of granite when they played in New York City. Leyland once identified the ground on which Shea Stadium was built as quicksand.
Leyland's first big league managerial assignment came with the Pirates in 1986, the same year the Mets made Queens uncomfortable for every visiting team, though none moreso than Leyland's bunch. The Pirates lost each of their nine games at Shea Stadium in '86, and all but two of their nine games there the following season. Their performance in New York in 1988 was marginally better -- a 3-6 record, and they lost their first three games at Shea in 1989.
"Five and 25," Leyland said last fall when he reminisced about those first green Pirates teams he managed. "That's bad enough, but it seemed worse than that. Davey's teams [the Mets teams of Davey Johnson] kicked us around like we were soccer balls."
Over the years, Leyland's fortunes in Queens and the Bronx improved dramatically, but fell well short of what would be consistent with his image as a winning manager. His teams' composite record at Shea Stadium, Citi Field, the razed and the current Yankee Stadium is 54-79. Eliminate the 5-25 start at Shea and add the All-Star Game at Citi last summer and seven postseason games at the current Yankee Stadium, and it's 55-56.
Of course, Leyland can recall at least a half-dozen games at Shea from 24 and 23 years ago that could have gone the Pirates' way with more luck and less Strawberry.
"God, they beat us around."
Back in the New York groove
In the first season of his second retirement, Leyland was back in NYC on Thursday, drawn here by three attractions -- a chance to see some of his favorite former Pirates and/or Tigers colleagues now working with the Mariners in a game at Yankee Stadium, meetings at the Major League Baseball office for the replay/challenge committee -- he relishes that responsibility -- and a chance to feed his abiding affection for oldies.
Leyland visited with Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon and third-base coach Rich Donnelly, who had served on some of his coaching staffs over the years, and with Andy Van Slyke, Leyland's center fielder with the Pirates.
"At least we see him in the flesh today," Donnelly said. "We hear from him every day. He's always calling to check in, sometimes twice a day. He calls me at 4:30 in the morning when we're home and says, 'What ya doin'?' I tell him, 'Waiting for you to call.'"
"It's the time [zone] difference," is Leyland's explanation. "Besides, they should be up."
Oldies but goodies
Leyland and his wife, Katy, took in "Motown the Musical" on Broadway on Thursday. Leyland loved it. He's seen "Jersey Boys" on Broadway multiple times and attends oldies concerts whenever he can. He has sung on stage with Vogues ("You're the One" and "5 O'Clock World" ) and the Skyliners ("Since I Don't Have You" and "This I Swear").
"That's music!" is his emphatic endorsement.
Donnelly, who has more than a passing relationship with Dion, had hoped to see "Jersey Boys" again Wednesday night after the Mariners game was rained out. Too wet to venture out.
If old friends from Steubenville, Pa., hadn't traveled to New York to see Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik, he might have bumped into Leyland at the Motown musical. Zduriencik also is an oldies fan, though he swears he sings only in the car and in the shower.
No second thoughts
Leyland, 69, says he has no desire to manage again. He always treasured handling games, but he grew weary of all the other trappings -- pregame and postgame -- of the job. Leyland had similar feelings after one year, 1999, of managing the Rockies and resigned. He didn't return to the game until 2006 when Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers' ultra-sharp GM, brought him to "Motown, the Opportunity."
Had the Mets been more patient in appointing a successor to Dallas Green in August 1996, Leyland might have had been given a different opportunity -- to manage at Shea Stadium. He was under contact with the Marlins at the time and would manage them to the World Series championship in 1997. But Nelson Doubleday, a partner with Fred Wilpon as Mets owners, hoped to hire Leyland away from the Marlins after the 1996 season.
Instead, the Mets promoted Bobby Valentine to replace Green, and Doubleday's interest in his team quickly waned.
And who would be Nurse Ratchet? McClendon's coaching staff includes Donnelly and Van Slyke, each a quipster of note, former Mets third baseman Howard Johnson (who has his funny moments), former Indians pitcher Rick Waits, former big league utilityman Chris Woodward and bench coach Trent Jewett.
"D'you ever see 'Once Flew Over The Cuckcoo's Nest'?" the manager says. "That's this group."
Says Donnelly? "But we haven't figured out which one of us is Jack Nicholson."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com.