Leyland rode a rollercoaster in Florida, Colorado

From the euphoria of winning the Series to the depths of losing, Jim Leyland experienced it all with the Marlins and Rockies.

Originally Published: April 16, 2003
By Tim Kurkjian | ESPN The Magazine

An expansion team in its early years can wear down even the sturdiest of managers. Jim Leyland is the only man to manage both the Marlins and Rockies, and they indeed added lines to his face and stole some of his hair. Yet as he reminisced on a ride home from his son's baseball tournament, the fond memories won handily, and the bad ones didn't seem so bad.

Leyland left Pittsburgh for Florida in 1997 because the Pirates had to dump three more players. The Marlins were a risk, and Leyland doesn't like change, but he had a good relationship with Marlins general manager Dave Dombrowski -- they'd previously worked together with the White Sox.

Jim Leyland
Jim Leyland is considering a return to the dugout.

"We had a good base, we had (Kevin) Brown and (Al) Leiter,'' Leyland said. "I didn't think we were quite ready to make a run at it, I thought that would come in '98. But halfway through the year (in '97), I told the coaches, 'We got a shot to make the playoffs.' ''

They did, clinching the National League wild card in September against the Expos.

"Jimmy never made a speech in his life,'' said Rich Donnelly, one of Leyland's coaches, "and that night, he made a speech.''

Leyland brought his team together and said, "When you see me, look at my uniform and you'll see that I'm wearing No. 11. That's how many wins it will take to win the World Series. Every day, look at me and I'll be a reminder of what we have to do.''

A speech -- Leyland called it "a topic'' -- preceded every postseason game. Before one World Series game, he spoke of Muhammad Ali.

"Some teams are satisfied about getting to the World Series,'' Leyland said. "I told our guys that Ali worked his hardest once the fight was set. He wasn't satisfied to be in the fight, he had to win the fight.''

Before Game 7 of the '97 World Series against the Indians, Leyland asked this question of his team: Who was the winning pitcher in Game 7 of the World Series last year?

"A bunch of guys just stared at me,'' he said. "Finally, I said, 'There was no Game 7 last year.' Some of our guys didn't think they had done enough in that World Series. I told them that whatever has happened up to now doesn't matter. It only matters what happens in Game 7.''

Donnelly said that Leyland finished by saying, "The next time you enter this room, you will be world champs.''

"Then Jimmy started crying,'' Donnelly said.

The Marlins won Game 7, leading to Leyland's best speech, or topic. "It was so emotional,'' he said. "My playing career wasn't illustrious, I thought back to my minor-league days and said, 'This is for all the minor-league guys. For all the guys in winter ball, in the Instructional League, this shows there is hope.' For me, it was like going back in time.''

The time for celebrating didn't last long. The Marlins, claiming to be far over budget, dismantled the team immediately. Leyland was crushed, and briefly considered resigning.

Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga told him to "take a year off, we'll get this thing together, then you can come back.'' But, Leyland said, "I couldn't do that. I knew we were going to take a beating, and obviously we did.'' The Marlins lost 108 games in 1998 -- the most in history following a World Series championship -- and the future didn't look a whole lot better.

Over the years
Jim Leyland's season-by-season record as a manager:
Year Team W-L Pct. Place
1986 Pitt. 64-98 .395 6th
1987 Pitt. 80-82 .494 4th
1988 Pitt. 85-75 .531 2nd
1989 Pitt. 74-88 .457 5th
1990 Pitt. 95-67 .586 1st
1991 Pitt. 98-64 .605 1st
1992 Pitt. 96-66 .593 1st
1993 Pitt. 75-87 .463 5th
1994 Pitt. 53-61 .465 3rd
1995 Pitt. 58-86 .403 5th
1996 Pitt. 73-89 .451 5th
1997* Fla. 92-70 .568 2nd
1998 Fla. 54-108 .333 5th
1999 Col. 72-90 .444 5th
* Won the World Series

So he resigned after the '98 season. Then the Rockies called. Leyland had a good relationship with then-Colorado GM Bob Gebhard and owner Jerry McMorris.

"I thought, 'Maybe we can do this again, maybe we can pull this off again,' '' Leyland said. They gave him a $6 million contract for three years.

But that first year, 1999, the Rockies lost 90 games. And after that season, Leyland decided he couldn't manage in Colorado anymore.

"I never said anything about the ballpark, but I wasn't a 9-8 manager, I wasn't a 12-9 or an 11-10 manager,'' Leyland said. "It was like slow-pitch softball. I'd look at the frustration on our pitcher's faces, and it frustrated me so much. I thought, 'I can't go through this again.' ''

Painfully, he resigned. And in so doing, he left $4 million on the table.

"I wasn't doing a good service for the organization,'' he said. "I've never been treated better than I was by management in Colorado. I couldn't take the money. I'm sure I disappointed Bob Gebhard. I know I disappointed Jerry McMorris. I still feel bad about that. But I just felt that, for me, it was time to go home and be with the kids.''

Now he watches 11-year-old Patrick Leyland play ball. Nothing will match the euphoria of winning the World Series with the Marlins. There's no more beautiful place to live than Denver. Teams still call to see if he's interested in managing, but he isn't. Watching his son play is better.

"We came in second in the tournament,'' Leyland said of his son's baseball team. "That was great.''

Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to Baseball Tonight. E-mail tim.kurkjian@espnmag.com.

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