October 22nd, 2013

Like rest of Tigers coaches, McClendon waiting

Tom Brookens and Gene Lamont said it yesterday, and Lloyd McClendon repeated it today. Like the rest of the Tigers coaches, McClendon is in limbo, under contract with the Tigers until the end of the month but unsure what will happen beyond that.

McClendon has not heard anything from the Tigers about the managerial opening, but he’d obviously be interested.

“Oh, I think you’d be a fool not to be,” he said.

McClendon was one of three coaches — Lamont and Rafael Belliard are the others — to work with Jim Leyland for all eight seasons in Detroit. He came here coming off a 4 1/2-year stint managing in Pittsburgh that ended late in the 2005 season, and Leyland brought him back looking to keep him involved in the game — first as the bullpen coach in 2006, then as hitting coach for the other seven seasons.

He already had learned a lot playing for Leyland for five seasons, then coaching under Gene Lamont for four more. Coaching for Leyland has strengthened that base, which he hopes to turn into a second chance at managing.

“It’s been a pleasure,” McClendon said. “Obviously when you have an opportunity to work with one of the best in the game, you’d be a fool not to learn something. That has certainly been very beneficial to me. My aspirations are hopefully to manage again, but at the same time you have to be your own man.”

Much of what he has learned sounds like what Leyland has preached, though it’s coming from a different voice.

“I think I already had it,” McClendon said, “but it certainly confirmed my convictions as far as how you go about your business, preparation, knowing your opponents, using that to your advantage, knowing your players, knowing their capabilities, what they’re capable of doing and what they’re not capable of doing, and above all your leadership skills.”

The biggest thing, he said, is to be yourself. Another point sounded familiar: “Be smart enough to stay out of the players’ way.”

Leyland has said more than once over the years that he’d like to see McClendon get another chance to manage somewhere, and he said it again on a local radio station Monday to put in a good word for him and Lamont. When contacted Monday, Lamont made it clear he’d like to manage again, but sounded less than confident he’d get a chance in this case.

If and when the Tigers look in-house at candidates to fill the job, the 54-year-old McClendon is expected to be the strongest candidate, combining previous managerial experience, hands-on work with the current roster and a relatively young age (younger than Lamont or Brookens). There will be questions about the struggles of the offense, as there should, but there will also be a look at hitters he has helped progress.

“I have not heard anything as of yet,” he said.

Like the rest of the coaches, McClendon said he had his suspicions as the season went on that Leyland could retire at the end. Interestingly, though, he said he was hoping an energized Leyland might change his mind once the Tigers returned to the playoffs.

“Obviously there were times during the season where I thought he had enough,” McClendon said, “but I thought he was energized for the playoffs. I was always kind of hoping he’d come back.”

Gibson won’t be leaving Arizona for Tigers

Scratch Kirk Gibson’s name off the Tigers’ potential search list. The former Tigers outfielder and coach turned Diamondbacks manager is apparently staying in Arizona, according to MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert and the Arizona Republic’s Nick Piecoro.

There has been no inquiry from the Tigers for permission to speak with Gibson. Diamondbacks team president Derrick Hall indicated to Piecoro he was not inclined to grant it, since it’s a parallel move in title. Then Hall apparently talked to Gibson about the job:

Hall, Towers and Gibson are taking part this week at the D-backs’ annual executive retreat, and when he heard the news about Leyland, Hall said he asked Gibson if he was interested in the Tigers’ job.

“He said this is where he wants to be,” Hall said. “And this is where we want him to be. So there’s no reason to even talk about it.”

CBSSports.com’s Danny Knobler first suggested Monday that Gibson was a possible candidate. However, there are two important factors to consider. First, the Tigers have a star-laden, veteran, power-oriented team, almost the opposite of the gritty club Gibson has molded in Arizona. Second, Gibson and Diamondbacks coach Alan Trammell were part of the Tigers staff that Dave Dombrowski let go after the 2005 season.

Dombrowski, meanwhile, indicated at Leyland’s retirement press conference that he isn’t looking at current managers.

“I really can’t speak with anybody from another organization. That’s tampering,” Dombrowski said. “But it’s a situation where anybody that’s with another organization that’s managing, they’re not under consideration, because that’s where they are.”

Leyland will be retired, replaced, but never matched

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Everybody who has covered Jim Leyland has a Jim Leyland story. It’s tough to be around him for any length of time and not have one. Mine just happened to play out over the airwaves, at least the first part of it.

You might remember the time a couple seasons ago when Jim Leyland jumped all over a question about Don Kelly. It was the day Brandon Inge returned from the disabled list, and Kelly — who had been playing well in a regular role at third in his place — was headed back to the bench. I asked Jim if Kelly would be back in his old utility role and Leyland, as he is apt to do from time to time, was anticipating a Kelly question.

“What do you want me to do with Don Kelly?” Leyland kept asking, over and over.

It was nothing I hadn’t heard before, and nothing I couldn’t take. When it aired on the radio less than an hour later, though, it was out there for everyone to hear, which was the last thing I wanted. If Leyland started feeling like anything he said would be on the air and guarded himself more, it would be nice for politeness, but not necessarily good for work.

Leyland’s initial reaction was out there for all to hear. What he did afterwards was not. As I was in the clubhouse later trying to gather information for notes, Leyland marched in from his office, looked around the clubhouse, marched over to Kelly’s locker, grabbed Kelly by the arm and then marched back.

“Beck,” he said to me, “I want to introduce you to Donnie Kelly.”

Kelly, understandably, had no idea what was going on, as the perplexed look on his face showed. He knew he was part of a gag, but didn’t know what it was. I had to explain to him what brought that all about, which of course meant that I had to explain to him that people were wondering what his role was going to be with Inge back.

The whole scene was bizarre, but it was funny. And in Leyland’s way, it was making light of what went on in his office. He wasn’t going to apologize, but this was his way of apologizing. It was also his way of keeping everybody on their toes.

Covering Leyland was unlike anything I’ve done in my career and probably ever will. In some ways, he was an analog manager adapted for a digital world. In other ways, he was older-era sensibilities in a new era of managing. His first season in Detroit, he was ranting about some story he read on the internet, and he was glaring at me the whole time. It wasn’t my story, or even anything on my site, but it was on the internet, and I work on the internet. Another time in those early years, he was ranting about something else (not another internet story) and was staring the whole time at my intern from that year, who had the fear of god on his face wondering what he’d done.

There was the time I had to go home from a road trip after getting sick and got a call from Leyland asking if everything was ok, and there was the time I got a call from Leyland during a weekend I wasn’t covering to give me grief for taking too many games off.

There was Leyland’s ability to have an opinion about something like managers with twitter accounts. And there was Leyland’s amazing ability to pick up his cell phone in the middle of a rant, answer a call from one of his kids, and suddenly change his voice from intense manager to family man as if the previous minute never happened.

He was from what everybody calls a simpler time, and he was way more complex than he let on at times. He wasn’t old-school, he once said, just old. Even in his press conference Monday, he made light of being considered grumpy. But he didn’t really like being called crusty.

He could get on a player about a game decision, then joke with them the next day as if nothing happened. He could disagree with Justin Verlander about goodness-knows-what, to the point where he joked about Verlander never agreeing with him about anything, but Verlander could have his back. He could be fierce with his players, then get fierce loyalty from them at the same time, from superstars to bench guys, and get them all to play as a team. The coming years could show just how tricky that is, just as the years before Leyland did.

He can be replaced as manager of the Detroit Tigers, just as he was in his other stops. But he can never be duplicated. There are a lot of things that could be reviewed about the 2013 team and what happened, but it shouldn’t be the final judgment from Leyland’s legacy. It’s a lot more complex than that, much like Leyland was.