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Leyland lent ear as Verlander mulled trade

Former Tigers manager reflects on enjoyable time with ace, understood weight of decision
MLB.com @beckjason

DETROIT -- Justin Verlander and Jim Leyland had plenty of big discussions over their eight years as Tigers ace and manager, some of them heated. When the Tigers visited Pittsburgh in early August, they sat down for one more chat.

The non-waiver Trade Deadline had passed a week earlier, and Verlander was still a Tiger. But he had cleared trade waivers, and the possibility remained that general manager Al Avila would approach Verlander with a trade to approve or decline. Verlander would be faced with a decision.

DETROIT -- Justin Verlander and Jim Leyland had plenty of big discussions over their eight years as Tigers ace and manager, some of them heated. When the Tigers visited Pittsburgh in early August, they sat down for one more chat.

The non-waiver Trade Deadline had passed a week earlier, and Verlander was still a Tiger. But he had cleared trade waivers, and the possibility remained that general manager Al Avila would approach Verlander with a trade to approve or decline. Verlander would be faced with a decision.

"We had a conversation when they were in Pittsburgh, because there had been a lot of talk," Leyland said Friday night. "We just chatted about possible options for him, what the future holds for him."

Video: Avila discusses trading away Verlander, Upton

Leyland said he didn't give advice so much as he listened. But as he did, he sensed the conflict between a player still chasing a World Series title and a Detroit icon conscious of his legacy with the only team he had called his home.

In the end, Leyland wasn't sure.

"I didn't really come out of it feeling one way or the other," Leyland said. "He really wants to win, but I also had sensed he wanted to stay in Detroit and stay with one organization his whole career. I knew that thought went through his mind. He obviously loved Detroit, he loves pitching there, he loved the fans."

Video: Tigers players react to team trading Verlander

A few weeks later, Verlander faced that decision for real, with less than an hour to decide. And after Verlander opted to join the Astros, Leyland will be happy to follow Verlander on the postseason stage again, while acknowledging that one of the best pitchers to put on a Tigers uniform is gone.

"I think he will be remembered as one of the all-time great pitchers in Detroit history," Leyland said, "and I think it goes even further. He's been one of the faces of the Tigers, without question, but he's also been one of the faces of baseball."

Tigers reflect on Verlander's impact in Detroit

That face became famous during a golden stretch of Tigers baseball that Leyland led. Though Verlander made two spot starts in 2005, the year before Leyland took over as Tigers manager, he became a Rookie of the Year under Leyland's watch, and later an MVP and Cy Young winner in 2011.

Their discussions became legendary, one competitive, stubborn personality butting heads with the other. Leyland implored Verlander to learn to pitch more efficiently after his rookie success. Verlander eventually did that, but also had his own approach to pitching and preparation. On an April night in 2012, as Verlander neared the 130-pitch mark in a complete-game bid in Kansas City, Leyland famously marched to the mound and told Verlander he was going to get him fired if he kept wasting pitches.

Their disagreements became such a running joke that they could laugh about it, Leyland joking that Verlander would never listen to him.

"It was kind of a neat thing," Leyland said. "I was coming back to the organization and he was coming in. I guess it was a great pitcher-manager relationship. To be honest, it was a pleasure to be his manager for eight years."

Verlander: Detroit career 'so special for me'

Asked if there was a Verlander game he'll best remember, Leyland acknowledged the two no-hitters, the 2012 and '13 ALDS Game 5 victories in Oakland, and other postseason gems. But Leyland's best Verlander memory came on a getaway day at Fenway Park in August 2009.

The Tigers had lost the first three games of a four-game set, and were clinging to a slim lead atop the AL Central. A 26-year-old Verlander dueled Clay Buchholz and tossed eight shutout innings on four hits with a walk and eight strikeouts to thwart the sweep.

"He was throwing 100 mph in the eighth inning," Leyland said, "and I thought that was the greatest game I saw him pitch. He obviously gave us all a lot of thrills."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

 

Detroit Tigers, Houston Astros, Justin Verlander