Leyland helped shape Tigers of the 1970s and 1980s

Current Tigers coach Tom Brookens (right) played under Jim Leyland at Evansville in 1979.

In two years it will be the 30th anniversary of the 1984 World Champion Detroit Tigers. It might seem odd to suggest that the celebration, if there were one, should include Jim Leyland. But in some ways it would make sense.

We associate Leyland with the current era of Tiger success: a pennant in his first season in Detroit in 2006, a division title last season. But Leyland traces his professional baseball roots back to the Tigers who signed him as a minor league free agent in 1963. But most importantly to the Detroit organization and its’ history, Leyland spent 12 seasons as a coach or manager in the organization, from 1970-1981. During that time, Leyland helped foster an amazing stable of talent that made their way to the big leagues, some of them culminating as key members of the ’84 team.

See how I brought that full circle?

Here’s a list of guys who played for Leyland in the minor leagues and later made it to the Tigers, grouped by the year of their big league debut:

Tom Veryzer (1973)

Ron LeFlore (1974)
Vern Ruhle (1974)

Ed Glynn (1975)
Jerry Manuel (1975)

Mark Wagner (1976)
Phil Mankowski (1976)
Bruce Kimm (1976)

Jack Morris (1977)
Lou Whitaker (1977)
Dave Rozema (1977)
Tim Corcoran (1977)

Dave Tobik (1978)
Steve Baker (1978)
Kip Young (1978)
Dave Stegman (1978)

Kirk Gibson (1979)
Dan Petry (1979)
Tom Brookens (1979)
Ricky Peters (1979)
Pat Underwood (1979)
Mike Chris (1979)
Bruce Robbins (1979)

Jerry Ujdur (1980)
Roger Weaver (1980)

Marty Castillo  (1981)
Rick Leach (1981)
Darrell Brown (1981)
Dave Rucker  (1981)
Howard Bailey (1981)

Larry Pashnick (1982)
Glenn Wilson (1982)

Seven of those players: Morris, Whitaker, Rozema, Gibson, Petry, Brookens, and Castillo, were members of the ’84 club. Several others had good major league careers.

The quality of players that the Detroit organization produced in the mid-t0-late 1970s is one of the best in baseball history. In addition to LeFlore, Morris, Whitaker, Gibson, and Petry, the Tigers also churned out Alan Trammell, Lance Parrish, Steve Kemp, Jason Thompson, and Howard Johnson. All of them were All-Stars, and four of them (Morris, Parrish, Trammell, and Whitaker) were among the two or three best to play their positions during their era. Each of the four in that quartet have “not to be sneezed at” cases for the Hall of Fame and they all came out of the Detroit organization in a 2-3 year period in the 1970s.

Jim Leyland managed many of them when they were green as grass, as we see by the list above. No, he wasn’t in the dugout with Sparky Anderson in 1984 (by then he was on the coaching staff of Tony LaRussa with the Pale Hose), but he does deserve some credit for the success the team had in the 1980s.