Column: Jim Leyland: Keep or Fire?

Since 2006, many more people have become Tigers fans. Before then, the team was average and couldn’t reel in big free agents, or the most fans. Five years after opening a new ballpark, the Tigers just couldn’t pull it together.

But somehow, Tigers owner Mike Ilitch found a way. He signed Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez before 2005 and then followed with Magglio Ordonez during the offseason heading into 2006. This year turned out to be magic for the Tigers.

Rookie Justin Verlander started his first year and we are currently seeing spots of his rookie days. Current manager, Jim Leyland was hired this year, as well. A fan favorite with his mustache, his constant talking like he has food in his mouth during media interviews and gutsy lineups each day. Fans adored Leyland. After losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, their first appearance since winning in 1984, fans had optimism for the first time in a long time going into the offseason. Those hopes turned to disappointment as they finished second in the division to the Cleveland Indians.

Ordonez finished as the American League batting champion that year, but fans, including myself, were disappointed. But, as most of us figure, we would regroup in the offseason and do better in 2008. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen either. The Tigers finished in last place in the AL Central. Two years separated from a World Series appearance showed them in last place. Many fans were wanting Leyland’s head for the failure. In fact, many people believe it’s the coach’s fault when it comes down to underperforming or a losing record.

Fast forward a few years to 2012. The Tigers have one of the largest payrolls in baseball, the fifth largest. Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Justin Verlander are just a few All-Star names on this roster being paid big bucks. At the beginning of this season, many predicted that the Tigers should go to the World Series, if not win it. I even predicted that Fielder would sign here. I had thought this was going to be a great year for the Tigers. Unfortunately, many of the PLAYERS have underperformed. Verlander is not repeating his Cy Young and MVP year, closer Jose Valverde isn’t on par with his game, and second base wasn’t shored up until the trade deadline.

As we move later into the season, many fans are demanding Leyland’s head, calling him out on his lineups he plays every day, why he plays certain players and blame him for constant losses. A logical fan knows that you cannot blame the manager for underperforming players. He can only put out there who he thinks is the best lineup to win. It’s on those players to play well and do what they are supposed to do.

If the Tigers don’t make the playoffs, it can be guaranteed they won’t fire Jim Leyland. There will be some changes, but Leyland will remain with the team. The demand for his firing can go on all year, but logical fans know that it is the players that need to perform. Let’s just hope the Tigers make the playoffs.

To read the original piece that appeared in the first issue of The Michigan Journal, on Tuesday, September 11, 2012, go to www.michiganjournal.org

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