Leyland's impact in Pittsburgh proves lasting
Stepping down as Tigers manager, longtime Bucs skipper lauded by former players
PITTSBURGH -- Jim Leyland's managerial career may be best remembered for taking a five-year-old franchise, the 1997 Florida Marlins, to a World Series title and for the classy, dignified way it ended on Monday.
But it began in Western Pennsylvania, where he spent the first decade of his 22 seasons managing the Pirates and forging unforgettable impressions.
Several of Leyland's players are still in the organization, and they recalled him with gratitude and respect.
"He always did such a great job dealing with so many personalities," said Jay Bell, the former shortstop and current batting coach. "When Barry [Bonds] was there ... he dealt with different guys with different personalities extremely well. Everyday guys, the bullpen guys, and the role players ... he dealt with them all equally well. He was extraordinary at dealing with people. As cranky as he could be, he was still pretty good at communicating what he wanted to see happen."
Jeff Banister, Clint Hurdle's bench coach, bid farewell to another of a vanishing breed. Leyland follows Joe Torre, Tony La Russa and Davey Johnson out the door -- a Mount Rushmore of managers who linked generations.
"I think baseball is losing one of the links to an old-school way of baseball," said Banister, who was drafted in 1986, during Leyland's first season at the helm. "He had a unique way of reaching the modern athlete. He was one of the guys who taught me how to play hard-nosed Pirates baseball. His passion for the game is surpassed by no one. He loves players but loves the game itself enough to try and keep it pure."
Banister's career was derailed by injuries and illness, and his perseverance was rewarded in 1991 by the ultimate big league cup of coffee: One at-bat in a late-July game.
"I respect him immensely for giving me an opportunity to have a Major League at-bat," Banister recalled on Monday. "The game will miss him on the field. An icon of the game for me."
Intolerant of players who would not give their all, Leyland remained committed to players who did.
Bell knew that side of him well. Soon after being acquired from Cleveland in an early-1989 trade, Bell struggled and was sent to Triple-A Buffalo. But when he was brought back in late-July, Leyland looked him in the eyes and told him, "Pittsburgh will have another manager before it has another shortstop."
"And," Bell said, "it worked out that way -- Jim left at the end of the 1996 season, and that December I was traded [to Kansas City]."