LOS ANGELES -- Jim Leyland is old and tired, he said on Wednesday before managing Team USA to its first World Baseball Classic title with a decisive 8-0 thumping of Puerto Rico in front of 51,565 rollicking fans at Dodger Stadium.Leyland also deadpanned, "We're trying to make America great again."::
LOS ANGELES -- Jim Leyland is old and tired, he said on Wednesday before managing Team USA to its first World Baseball Classic title with a decisive 8-0 thumping of Puerto Rico in front of 51,565 rollicking fans at Dodger Stadium.
Leyland also deadpanned, "We're trying to make America great again."
:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::
"I'm stressed. I'll be honest with you, I'm stressed," Leyland said. "And I've got to get up at 4 o'clock in the morning to catch a 6-something flight back to Lakeland, Fla., to be with the Tigers. You know, I'm old and tired, but I'll be ready tonight."
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Leyland last managed the Tigers in 2013 and came out of retirement at the behest of Joe Torre, Major League Baseball's chief baseball officer and Team USA's general manager. And after the game was over, Leyland said this was it.
"I'm not going to wear a uniform again, I can tell you that," said Leyland, now a consultant for the Tigers. "I know people have heard that before, but this time I'm done."
Of course, Leyland said the same thing in 1999 when he left the Rockies, only to resurface in Detroit seven years later.
"No, I understand that, but I'll be 73 years old," Leyland said. "That's enough. Let somebody else do it. And who really cares?"
Perhaps the upcoming Today's Game Committee, which votes veterans into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. If there had been any doubt, Leyland would now seem to be a dead-bang Hall of Famer when that 16-person group gathers to discuss candidates later this year.
Leyland joined buddy Tommy Lasorda as the only manager to win both a World Series and an international tournament. Lasorda won World Series with the Dodgers in 1981 and '88 and a gold medal with Team USA in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
Leyland managed the Marlins to a World Series victory in 1997 and the Tigers to American League pennants in 2006 and '12.
"To me, I think he's a Hall of Famer," said Torre, Team USA's manager in 2013 and a four-time World Series winner as manager with the Yankees who was elected to the Hall along with colleagues Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa in 2014. "He's managed teams into the World Series in both leagues. Nothing's a certainty, but I certainly believe he'll eventually be in the Hall of Fame."
The lovingly cranky Leyland was magnificent taking this U.S. team through a labyrinth of rules and restrictions that forced him to adroitly juggle his pitchers. Though he was tested without the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner and Justin Verlander, Tanner Roark, Marcus Stroman and a seemingly endless bullpen provided stellar efforts in the Championship Round.
Team USA held previously combined 13-0 Japan and Puerto Rico to one run on seven hits over the final two games. No easy feat.
After surviving the first round, Leyland didn't play any games, sitting Paul Goldschmidt, Daniel Murphy, Alex Bregman and Josh Harrison for the rest of the tournament. The quarter of stars was a combined 3-for-27, with Bergman accruing two of those hits.
Leyland sent home starting pitchers Chris Archer and Drew Smyly when their throw days didn't sync with the U.S schedule. While Stroman took a no-hitter into the seventh inning before Angel Pagan broke it up with a leadoff double, Archer was in Sarasota, Fla., tossing 5 2/3 innings of four-run, five-hit ball in a Grapefruit League loss to the Orioles.
These were the kinds of tough decisions Leyland had to make.
"I think you try to be a little creative early in the tournament and try to do some things with the lineup and get guys playing," he said. "Then as it gets down to this point, you've just got to go with what you feel gives you your best shot. I think that's really important. That's kind of what I've done. No question, some of these guys got the short end of the stick."
Leyland second-guessed himself, sending out Stroman to pitch the bottom of the seventh nearing 70 pitches with a 7-0 lead and the no-hitter still pending. The pitch limit at this juncture of the Classic is 95. Leyland said he thought about lifting the Toronto right-hander at that point, even though Stroman had recorded six ground-ball outs in a row.
"I thought he deserved a chance, but it was probably a mistake on my part, to be honest with you," Leyland said.
Stroman, who started a loss to Puerto Rico in the second round, said the manager hadn't spoken to him at all about coming out. If Leyland had, Stroman would've been disappointed, but undaunted.
"I'm sure that I would've initially been upset," Stroman said. "But I have so much respect for Mr. Leyland. He's the man. I never played for a such a down-to-earth, humble, confident manager. It was an experience. I loved playing for him. I'm upset that he's leaving the game and won't be managing again."
Torre wasn't surprised about that sentiment. Leyland is a players' manager, he said.
"He feels for them. He knows that the loyalty's there," Torre said. "They just get a kick out of playing for him. He enjoys it. He's a straight shooter. There's nothing that he's going to hold back."
The fact is, Leyland took the U.S. to a place where his Team USA predecessors -- Buck Martinez, Davey Johnson and even Torre -- couldn't. To a World Baseball Classic title.
On the podium and later at the news conference, Leyland stated what for him what this was all about.
"I think this is the best part of it," Leyland said, choking back tears. "I had the honor of managing for our country, our coaches had the honor of coaching for our country, the players had the honor of playing for our country. But this is really about the men and women who serve this country.
"That's who this is for."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter.