October 2013

Confirmed: Tigers interview Tim Wallach

All indications at this point are that Lloyd McClendon is the only in-house candidate for the Tigers managerial post (Gene Lamont and Tom Brookens haven’t been contacted about the job). So if the Tigers are talking with more managerial candidates, they’re most likely coming from outside the organization. There’s no shortage of those, but who first?

Tim Wallach, perhaps?

That was followed by this report.

Jonah Keri is a baseball analyst for ESPN and Grantland who has written extensively about the Montreal Expos. Bill Shaikin covers the Dodgers for the Los Angeles Times.

The reports were confirmed by Wallach, who returned home to California Friday evening after interviewing for the job Friday afternoon.

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports mentioned Wallach a couple days ago as a potential option, in part based on his history with Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski. Wallach spent more than a decade as the third baseman in Montreal, including the years when Dombrowski was the Expos general manager.

More important, Wallach was a minor-league manager (Triple-A Albuquerque 2009-2010) and then a third-base coach for Don Mattingly with the Dodgers for the last three seasons. There have been reports that Wallach was in line to become the Dodgers’ interim manager if Mattingly was fired when rumors were flying early in the season.

Fister, Dirks named Gold Glove finalists

Rawlings has released its list of three finalists at each position for the Gold Glove awards. The Tigers have two — one probably expected, one probably not.

Doug Fister joins Blue Jays hurlers Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey as the Gold Glove finalists at pitcher. Buehrle has dominated this award, winning four in a row (2009-2011 AL, 2012 NL), but his defensive stats took a little bit of a dip this season (TWO errors!!!) on the artificial surface in Toronto. Fister had an errorless season with an AL-best 2.29 Range Factor, and he turned five double plays — tied for most among AL pitchers with Justin Verlander and Lucas Harrell.

In past years, those defensive stats would be relatively meaningless, since the Gold Gloves have been decided exclusively on voting from managers and coaches. This summer, however, Rawlings and SABR announced a Defensive Index statistic derived from Defensive Runs Saved, Ultimate Zone Rating and Runs Effectively Defended, which was sent to managers and coaches as a statistical resource guide to go with the ballots. Of course, there’s no guarantee how much they’ll take stats into account.

The plan, according to Rawlings and SABR, is to also have the SABR Defensive Index complement the judgement by the managers and coaches. The SDI will account for 30 total votes — or approximately 25 percent — of the Rawlings Gold Glove Award selection process, and will be added to the votes from the managers and coaches.

The other Tigers Gold Glove finalist is left fielder Andy Dirks — yes, Dirks. He finished second in Ultimate Zone Rating among AL left fielders with enough innings to qualify (though the leader, Texas’ David Murphy, isn’t among the finalists) and led the group in Range Factor (putouts plus assists per game). He had seven outfield assists and two errors.

The finalists in left include Kansas City’s Alex Gordon, who has won back-to-back Gold Gloves, and Oakland’s Yoenis Cespedes. Gordon had another very good year, and he would seem to be a favorite here.

Among those Tigers who didn’t get consideration this year were shortstop Jose Iglesias, center fielder Austin Jackson and right fielder Torii Hunter. Iglesias, though he certainly had some defensive gems after becoming the Tigers’ everyday shortstop in August, made just 67 starts at short this season. Jackson faced a statistically strong group of AL center fielders and didn’t make the cut statistically (neither did Mike Trout). Hunter tied for the AL lead in assists among right fielders but didn’t rank high on other statistical levels.

The Gold Glove winners will be announced Tuesday night at 8pm ET on ESPN2.

McClendon interviewed for managerial job

The Tigers have started the interview process for their managerial position. Hitting coach Lloyd McClendon interviewed for the job on Thursday.

Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski confirmed the interview, first reported by ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick. Dombrowski also confirmed that McClendon is the first interview for the opening.

McClendon is also reportedly a potential candidate in Seattle, where he was a finalist for the Mariners opening the last time around before they hired Eric Wedge.

Max Scherzer “Livin’ the Dream” video

The MLB Players Association has released a few “Livin’ the Dream” videos, profiling players on and off the field. Two of the three videos feature players who are in the World Series with St. Louis’ Matt Carpenter and Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury. Max Scherzer is the other.

Most of the video comprises of Scherzer’s commute from his in-season home to Comerica Park. If you look around, you can pick out some familiar surroundings in Birmingham, downtown Detroit, Woodward Avenue and I-75.

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

Leyland 002

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.

Cabrera’s injury: Groin strain/tear, surgery possible

Now the Tigers can reveal how much of an injury Miguel Cabrera was playing through — or injuries. He has two, Dave Dombrowski said. One of them was pretty severe.

“He has a groin [injury], they say grade two, grade three, which means there’s some tearing of fibers in that area,” Dombrowski said. “It was not going to heal with rest, we were assured of that.”

An examination by Dr. William Meyers, a specialist in Philadelphia, led to the diagnosis. The Tigers had Cabrera fly in to see Dr. Meyers before the start of the postseason. He’s expected to visit again shortly to evaluate whether surgery is required.

If Cabrera does have surgery, Dombrowski said, he’s expected to be fully recovered in time for next Spring Training.

Cabrera actually had two different injuries down the stretch. The first was an abdominal strain that began bothering him around the end of June. He played through that and showed no signs of being limited, other than some limitations in his mobility.

“When he had the abdominal strain, he played the month of August and was Player of the Month, even though it continued to restrict him,” Dombrowski said.

The groin strain was a separate injury, and it happened down the stretch.

“He hurt his groin against the White Sox when he slid into second base,” Dombrowski said. “The abdominal strain became healed and then the groin became a problem.”

Though Dombrowski didn’t give a specific date, the description points towards Sept. 21, when Cabrera tried to stretch a single off the right-field fence into a double. His old teammate, Avisail Garcia, threw him out at second.

Even before that, though, Cabrera was becoming increasingly limited, and the debate over Cabrera would be better off resting for a couple weeks was picking up momentum. When the question came up, team officials consistently said they were told he could not make the injury worse.

What Dombrowski said Monday was that they knew rest wouldn’t make it better, unless they shut him down for the season.

“If somebody would have said to us, put him on the DL for a couple weeks and he’ll be better, we would have put him on the DL,” Dombrowski said.

Leyland announces retirement from managing

It’s time, Jim Leyland said.

“It’s time to step down from the managerial position of the Detroit Tigers,” Leyland announced at a Monday morning press conference, “and accept another position yet to be determined.”

He made up his mind on Sept. 7 after a blowout loss in Kansas City, and told team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski. He told the players of his plans after Saturday’s loss to the Red Sox in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series. He made it official on Monday, ending his eight-year tenure leading the team he grew up with, and a 22-year managerial career that ranks him among the most accomplished of his most generation.

Leyland said he sensed the energy waning at age 68, and didn’t feel it would be fair to stay on the job if the fire wasn’t there. They were similar sentiments to what led him to step back from managing after the 1999 season in Colorado.

“I don’t feel it would be fair for the organization, Mr. Ilitch, the front office, the players and the coaches for me to go on,” Leyland said. “The fire has gone low.”

This time, it appears to be for good. With front-office members, coaches, and players Torii Hunter and Don Kelly in attendance, Leyland announced his retirement from managing.

“We want to thank Jim for everything he has done over the past eight years to steer the ship and lead our ballclub to some exciting times in this town,” Tigers owner Mike Ilitch said. “Jim has been instrumental in the franchise’s most recent success on and off the field, and we are forever grateful. We wish the best to Jim and his family in the future.”

Leyland didn’t want to call it goodbye, saying he’ll remain involved. His career in professional baseball, which reached 50 years this season, will continue. For someone who hit .222 as a minor-league catcher and thought he might have go back to the factories of Perrysburg, Ohio, it was quite a career.

He worked his way up to the big leagues on a long, hard path. After more than a decade managing in the Tigers farm system and helping develop prospects such as Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker and Kirk Gibson, he finally got his shot as a big-league coach under Tony La Russa with the White Sox in the early 1980s. He was a relatively unknown candidate managerial opening in Pittsburgh when Chuck Tanner stepped down.

Once Leyland finally got his shot, success came relatively quickly. He built the Pittsburgh Pirates into a perennial contender on a small-market budget in the early 1990s, winning three consecutive National League East titles from 1990-92. He was Barry Bonds’ first manager, forging a relationship that was fiery at times but fiercely loyal, and until this year remained the last Pirates manager with a winning season.

His resume was strong enough that Dombrowski looked to him when he wanted a proven manager to lead a win-now Florida Marlins team in 1997. With a cast of stars that included Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown, Moises Alou, Al Leiter, and a pressure of title expectations, Leyland led the Marlins into the playoffs for the first time ever, then through the postseason to a world championship.

That team was dismantled soon after the parade, leaving Leyland to manage a 1998 team comprised largely of prospects and role players to 108 losses. After a disappointing 1999 season managing in Colorado, he stepped down and seemed ready for retirement.

For years, however, he dreamed about a chance to manage Detroit. He took the job after the 2005 season and led a Tigers team that hadn’t had a winning record since 1993 to heights it hadn’t seen since its World Series-winning season of 1984.

The 2006 Tigers, Leyland’s first team, won the AL Wild Card and went to the World Series, falling to the Cardinals in five games. It was a Cinderella story for a franchise that had seemed mired in mediocrity, but it was the start of a team that contended just about every year.

“The thing I’m proudest of is … I came here to make talent a team. I think we did that,” Leyland said.

Six of Leyland’s eight Tigers squads finished with a winning record. Four of them went to the playoffs. The last three won the AL Central title and advanced to at least the ALCS. The 2012 team returned to the World Series, losing out to the Giants. Leyland joined Hughie Jennings from a century ago as the only managers to lead the Tigers to three consecutive postseason berths.

“Jim’s tenure will be looked back on as one of the great eras in Tigers history, an era that included two World Series appearances, four ALCS appearances in eight seasons, three division titles and two American League pennants,” Dombrowski said. “It has truly been an honor to work with one of the great managers in the history of the game.”

He managed a Cy Young winner in Justin Verlander, and back-to-back league MVPs in Verlander and Miguel Cabrera. His team this season might well end up sweeping the major postseason awards between Cabrera’s candidacy to repeat as MVP, Max Scherzer’s emergence as a Cy Young favorite, and Rookie of the Year candidate Jose Iglesias.

“I’m proudest to have the privilege of managing the Detroit Tigers,” Leyland said. “But really I’m being selfish, the number of wins, the number of postseason appearances. I just feel so blessed. I don’t want to slight anybody, it’s been just as much fun for me to manage the Ramon Santiagos as the Miguel Cabreras or Justin Verlanders.”

Fitting, then, that the two players on hand were a superstar like Hunter and a role player like Kelly.

In each of the three seasons, Leyland worked without a contract for the following year. He had decided to go year-to-year with his deal, he said, following the example of his good friend, former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, to avoid a long-term commitment if he didn’t want to manage anymore or if the Tigers wanted to go in a different direction. La Russa was among the few people Leyland consulted while coming to his decision to retire as a manager.

There had been no outward signs that Leyland was ready to call it quits. As recently as this summer, he talked about wanting to manage beyond next year, and he said that his energy level was good.

As the year went along, however, that apparently changed. He started thinking about his future as early as June, and became more serious about it as the summer went along.

“This job entails a lot more than people think,” he said. “There’s a lot more than writing out the lineup and pulling the pitcher. Like I said, I was low on fuel and I could see it coming. The trips were starting to get tough. If you look at what we just did in the postseason, we went out back and forth twice, then flew into Boston and got in at 9 o’clock in the morning.

“Like I said, I’m going to be 69 years old, I’m not ashamed of that, I’m proud of that. But my fuel is getting a little low. That’s the one thing I’m really happy about. I think I still have a chance to get a World Series ring here — at least I think they’ll give me one if they win it next year. We’re just changing the guard a little bit. That’s all we’re doing.”

Leyland’s 700 regular-season managerial wins are the third-most in Tigers history, trailing only Sparky Anderson (1,331) and Jennings (1,131). His .540 winning percentage as Tigers manager ranks only behind Steve O’Neill (.551 from 1943-48) among managers with at least 500 wins.

Leyland’s 1,769 wins overall rank 15th all-time among Major League managers. His eight playoff appearances tie him for seventh on the all-time list, a group that includes La Russa, Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and Hall of Famers Casey Stengel, John McGraw, Joe McCarthy and Connie Mack.

How Game 6 turned against Tigers

The more Tigers players talked, the more the sense emerged that if they won Game 6 Saturday night, they loved their chances at winning Game 7 behind Justin Verlander.

“Absolutely,” Don Kelly said. “Fenway’s a great place to play. It’s fun. It’s exciting. But to have Max and Ver going, you feel good about your chances.”

Verlander himself felt pretty confident, too.

“I felt confident in the way I’ve been throwing the ball lately,” he said. “I obviously wanted the opportunity.”

But then, Omar Infante thought, they might not be in this position if they had won Game 2.

“I think the second game, we have to win that game,” Infante said. “That happens in baseball. Sometimes you have to get lucky.”

Call it luck, call it skill, call it fundamentals. Whatever terms you use, though they credited the Red Sox with making the big plays, this was a series with regrets.

“In my years in the postseason, if you make mistakes, they get magnified and they cost you,” Hunter said. “We made mistakes. We can’t do anything about it, nothing about it. It’s tough.

“We can always look back and think of certain situations, certain pitches, certain situations we didn’t come through in. You can always look back and second guess. We probably should’ve won at least one of these games, and it should’ve been 3-3, but why? It’s over with. You can’t do anything about it, can’t take it back, it’s over. It’s tough. Tough for me. The door’s closing.”

Said Justin Verlander: “I felt like we put ourselves in a position. I felt like we were one or two plays away from going to the World Series. It just didn’t happen. I think when you get to this point in the season, it’s one or two plays, especially against a team that’s as good as the Red Sox. I feel like we were just as good as those guys. It was just that kind of series where a couple things went their way and they won those ballgames.”

That said, Alex Avila wanted to make sure credit went to the Red Sox.

“As disappointing as the loss is, we can’t be upset on how we played, how hard we played,” he said. “They’re a great team over there, they played their ass off too. I think fans got everything they could ask for in this series.”

That said, if you’re going to look at the plays that cost the Tigers, there were a few on Saturday:

1. The Prince Fielder rundown at the plate

This is one case where the replay looked stranger than real life. As Victor Martinez tried to continue a rundown between first and second, Prince Fielder seemingly froze going home. Whether Dustin Pedroia would’ve had a play at the plate had Fielder kept going is a question, but he had no play by stopping.

“I was trying to keep us out of the double play,” Fielder said, “and once I saw Pedroia tag him I kind of got stuck there – and it was a double play anyway.”

The rundown might well have kept the two-run inning, the only scoring inning for the Tigers on the night, from becoming something bigger.

2. The Austin Jackson pickoff

Jackson was not going when he was on base in the fifth inning, before Jose Iglesias hit into a double play. He was caught off base, however, in the seventh by reliever Brandon Workman.

“Just trying to be too aggressive right there,” Jackson said. “It just happened, I don’t think it was necessarily a deal breaker or anything but it was definitely not the right time to be that aggressive.”

3. Xander Bogaerts

Three times in as many chances, Max Scherzer moved ahead in the count against the rookie third baseman: 0-2 in the third inning, then 1-2 in the fifth and seventh. All three times, he worked the count full before reaching base. His fifth-inning double ignited the two-out rally for the first run of the game. His seventh-inning walk, which included some pitches that Tigers fans are vehemently arguing are strikes, led to Scherzer’s exit.

4. Jose Iglesias’ error

Say what you will about what impact Bogaerts’ walk had on that play, forcing Iglesias to look to turn two. It looked like Iglesias’ positioning right behind the bag at second might have led him to expect a different bounce, perhaps off the bag.

If not for that, Iglesias said, “We probably finish that inning there. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get it done. It would be a huge double play if we turn that one but we didn’t.”

5. Jose Veras’ hanging curve

Shane Victorino took the first curveball he saw from Veras and then fouled off the second, a nasty pitch in the dirt. Veras wanted to bounce another one but left it up just enough for Victorino to make contact.

“We wanted to bounce the ball,” Veras said. “It was down but it was supposed to bounce the ball, breaking ball in the dirt. He made the adjustment. Today was the big hit for him. Sometimes you have to tip your hat. He dived a little bit and he hit it.”

In other words, right pitch, wrong location.

“He hadn’t done much with breaking balls this series,” Avila said, “and you have to give him credit for hitting it hard. That’s really it. …  Ideally you maybe want it a little lower, something if he’s going to swing, he’s not making contact. But I know Veras and he was trying to make a very good pitch there. It was a little bit up which allowed him to get some good wood on the ball but he hadn’t been hitting very many breaking balls either and you have to give him credit, too.”

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