Tossed salad and scrambled eggs
Much like Frasier Crane picking up after Cheers and moving to Seattle for his own show, Lloyd McClendon is off to to the Pacific Northwest for a well-deserved second shot at managing. Like Frasier was to Cheers, a spinoff but a completely different show and tone, McClendon is likely not going to be a simple continuation of Jim Leyland’s era in Detroit.
When he talked about the Tigers opening two weeks ago, he talked about being his own man, being himself, taking lessons to heart that he learned from Leyland but not simply trying to copy him.
“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,” McClendon said last month. “That has certainly been very beneificial to me. My aspirations are hopefully to manage again, but at the same time you have to be your own man.”
Eight years as a coach alongside Leyland, seven as the hitting coach, “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. Be yourself.”
McClendon has long wanted to manage again, which is why he probably cringed over the years when the Tigers would play Pittsburgh and he’d see the highlights of his epic rant at PNC Park, pulling out first base and taking it with him on his way out after an ejection. He knew that couldn’t help his cause, no matter how much fans talk about wanting a fiery manager.
He came close in Seattle a few years ago, losing out to Eric Wedge, but he had the hope of being considered Leyland’s successor in Detroit. He had to be crushed when the Tigers went with younger, less experienced Brad Ausmus over the weekend, but he had to focus on his second interview with the M’s. As low as it had to be, losing out on the shot to manage the team he knew, getting a chance to manage a Mariners team with a chance to build has to be an emotional swing. Even with a general manager in a contract year, there are worse fates than to get a second chance with a rotation that includes Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton, not to mention several young hitters who haven’t hit near their potential yet.
He doesn’t get a ready-made, veteran laden team for the World Series, but he gets a chance to build in a division that, while immensely talented, isn’t like Sisyphus trying to roll a boulder up a hill. There’s room for upward mobility, as the M’s showed simply sticking within sight of .500 until September.
A lot of fans in Detroit wanted McClendon to suffer for the Tigers’ hitting struggles, especially in the postseason, and that’s fine. It wasn’t for a lack of work on his part, but it was a bottom-line type of season here. Game managing and being a hitting coach are two different skill sets, though, and other than connecting with players, I never quite understood the correlation people held so closely between the two. Larry Parrish is a tremendous manager at Triple-A and a veteran judge of talent, but he did not end up being a good hitting coach in Atlanta. Leyland couldn’t tell you much about hitting and techniques, but he knew what he wanted to do with the hitters he had. McClendon knows how to recognize changes and patterns in the swing, and he had inifinite patience to work with guys if they were willing. He also did a ton of work breaking down video. Now we’re going to see how he handles a game again.
To answer the next question, I do not know how many — if any — of his Detroit colleagues he might bring with him. It would seem like a safe bet that if the Tigers don’t keep Jeff Jones as pitching coach, he should have a spot in Seattle with another impressive group of arms.