They say timing is everything in this world. Whether it is a lost love or the chance that just slipped away, we either bemoan or celebrate the timing that happens to us on a near daily basis. For the 2006 Tigers, timing was everything as a wealth of young talent combined with the steady hand of a grizzled, winning manager of World Series’ past. Jim Leyland had been spurned only a few years previous when the job he had thought was his went astray. Now, a decade after he quit on his Rockies team, Leyland has found himself a second extension with the Tigers – this one lasting through 2011.
Following the 2008 season, Leyland frequently complained openly to the press that his contract had not been extended. Suffering the Tigers’ first losing season since 2005 (remember when things were measured since the last WINNING season?), fans had grown accustomed to winning. Finding the AL Central basement with that tremendous talent and payroll was not in the cards for Dombrowski and his staff and Leyland bordered on being a lame duck manager this year.
Literally managing every game this season like it would be his last, Leyland awoke from a clubhouse slumber to find that his contract had been extended for two more seasons. The new deal makes him the longest tenured manager since Sparky Anderson. In fact, since 1950, only four managers have led the Tigers for more than three seasons – Mayo Smith (4), Ralph Houk (5), Anderson (16) and Leyland (3+).
The next three weeks of the season leading up to the All-Star Game will be a telltale sign on whether this team is headed closer towards a potential playoff berth or if this season will also end with 21 others during the first few days of October. The team performed mightily for a clutch sweep over the then-NL Central leading Brewers and now find themselves matching against the troika of Zambrano, Harden and Lilly.
While it is hard to determine whether Jim Leyland is directly responsible for this four game winning streak, it is clear that his winning record as a Tigers manager has helped turn the baseball fortunes of this city around.