Leyland anticipating new role with Tigers
Former manager working with ballclub, on new replay system
DETROIT -- No regrets, Jim Leyland says. No withdrawal, either.
Normally, Leyland would've written out at least a half-dozen batting orders by now. He would've gone over the workout schedule for Spring Training, wondered whether he should devote more time for an extra drill or two on fundamentals, and looked over the throwing schedule for his pitchers. He would have thought out his annual speech to his players, weighed how he wanted to approach the topic of expectations, and probably thought of a funny line or two to get a laugh.
As another Spring Training approaches, that's no longer Leyland's job. As he endures another bout of winter cold at home in Pittsburgh, he's preparing to embark on the next phase of his career, and there's a hint of anticipation in his voice.
He's still going to Spring Training, his 51st. And when the Tigers open up their spring schedule with their traditional exhibition against Florida Southern College, he'll be there watching. He just won't be managing.
He's fine with that. He has enough lined up in semi-retirement.
"I'm ready to go," Leyland said Thursday. "I got a real nice call from [new manager] Brad [Ausmus] the other day, and we had a couple discussions about a couple things. I'm thrilled that he included me. I'm ready to go, and I'm ready to take on this new challenge and hopefully be able to do whatever I can."
Leyland and Ausmus have talked off and on for much of the offseason, starting at baseball's Winter Meetings in December. Ausmus has sought his advice and given him credit at different points this winter for his insight.
Leyland wants to give Ausmus his space to establish himself as a manager, which is one reason why he's waiting until Spring Training is well underway to visit. Yet at the same time, Leyland sounds appreciative to be used as a sounding board.
"Brad has been absolutely outstanding," Leyland said. "He's treated me with so much respect. I'm just so thrilled, and I'm really proud of him. He's grasped this thing."
Leyland actually has two new challenges, one of them already well-documented. His role as a special assistant to team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski, announced during his retirement press conference in October, will center around player evaluation, both within the system and outside.
Leyland will head to camp about a week after full-squad workouts begin. He'll watch some workouts, take in early spring games, then check in on Minor League camp. He'll also be available to do some scouting for the Tigers at other Grapefruit League games.
At the same time, Leyland will also be working with Major League Baseball. He has taken a role with the Commissioner's Office to work with his good friend, former Cardinals manager and newly-elected Hall of Famer Tony La Russa, on the expanded instant replay system that will go into effect this season.
Leyland had his share of opinions on replay over the past several years as manager. He won't have the challenge of managing a game under the new system, trying to decide which close calls to challenge and figure out how far he can take an argument. Instead, he might well end up helping explain to managers and teams how the system will work.
"I'm going to be working with Tony on the replay situation, maybe help iron out any kinks, things like that," Leyland said. "I'm looking forward to that. It's going to be interesting. It'll be a historic event. It's such a monumental thing for baseball."
It's arguably pretty important for Leyland as well. As a member of the on-field committee that recommended rules changes and adjustments, Leyland has had a hand in shaping the game the past several years. Now that Leyland doesn't have a day job, it wouldn't be a surprise if he remains active on that end.
He's not thinking that far ahead yet. Being semi-retired means he doesn't have to make big plans. But it's clear he's not stepping away from the game. After 22 years managing in the Majors, and a half-century in baseball, he still has something to contribute.
"It's an honor to stay with the Tiger organization and stay and do some work, and it's an honor to be involved with baseball," Leyland said. "So it's a big honor. If I can contribute anything to make the game better or more sensible, that's what I'm going to do."