"There's no question in my mind that the passion that Jim Leyland has had throughout his career is back within him to manage," president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "And with that, the decision to name ... one of the top managers in the game of baseball in recent times, and bring him to this organization, is a very big day for our franchise."
As big as it might be for the Tigers, who dismissed Alan Trammell on Monday morning, it seemed bigger for the 60-year-old Leyland. After a six-year hiatus from managing, Leyland fully accepts that he has something to prove, several things to learn about his new club, and a pressure to win.
"There's two kinds of pressure: Good pressure and bad pressure," Leyland said. "Good pressure is going to Spring Training with a club that's supposed to win. Bad pressure is when you go into Spring Training with a team that you think might not win. Good pressure is when you've prepared for the test and all of a sudden you're in that situation, pitcher against hitter. Bad pressure is when you haven't prepared yourself right.
"Believe me when I tell you, I hope I have a lot of pressure on me in the near future, because that means you've got a club that's expected to win. I don't want to go into Spring Training without some kind of pressure."
The way Leyland looked and sounded Tuesday, neither good nor bad pressure seemed bothersome. He was forthright and honest, sometimes brutally so to himself, about the challenge he faces in his fourth managerial job, and what he learned from his time off as well as his last job.
Leyland last managed in 1999 with the Colorado Rockies, who finished 70-92 in his only season before he resigned with two years left on his contract. He remained on the periphery of the managerial picture for several years before interviewing last year with the Philadelphia Phillies, who selected Charlie Manuel instead.
Leyland's name resurfaced in a major way this summer, when he told reporters he had the passion to manage again. He also said he wanted to manage a team close to home and close to contention. As Leyland and Dombrowski talked Monday, the situation fit for both sides.
"Dave and I talked about the club, what I felt might work on this team, and why I thought I was the guy who could handle this team," Leyland said. "Basically, there's no special formula for any particular team, it's just the formula that you know is the right way to do things. I think Dave was mostly concerned about my passion, whether I wanted to do it."
Dombrowski was hoping to be convinced. Until Leyland applied for the Phillies job last year, Dombrowski was convinced he wouldn't manage again.
"One thing you will find: This man knows how to manage a baseball club," Dombrowski said. "And when I talk about people like Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox, that's the type of category, to me, that Jim Leyland is in. He hasn't done it in a few years, but throughout [Leyland's hiatus], we have always been in contact."
Leyland built that reputation based on his success in his first two stops. He spent his first 11 years with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who won three consecutive NL East titles under his leadership from 1990-92. It was there that Leyland honed his no-nonsense approach for handling superstar players, including Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla. It was there, too, that the relationship was built between Leyland and Dombrowski, who was Montreal's general manager at the time.
"We'll argue like hell from time to time," Leyland said, "but it's only because we want to make this club better."
After four consecutive struggling seasons with the Pirates of the post-Bonds era, Leyland left for Florida, where Dombrowski hired him to hold together a Marlins squad built on proven free agents and trade acquisitions. The Marlins became the first-ever Wild Card team to win the World Series, earning Leyland his long-sought championship after close finishes in Pittsburgh.
He never got a real chance to repeat. Under pressure, the Marlins dismantled the roster after the season, leaving Leyland to lead a few leftover veterans and a slew of youngsters to a 54-108 follow-up season in 1998. He left Florida for Colorado before taking a step back.
It appears his coaching staff will have a similar experience level, though Leyland said it will not include many of the coaches he had in his previous stops. He is expected to hire former Pirates managers Gene Lamont and Lloyd McClendon as coaches.
Leyland's comments Tuesday clearly showed that his struggles in Colorado haunted him. "I did a lousy job in my last year of managing," he said. "I was terrible. I stunk. Basically, I was burned out and did not have the energy to put out the fires that need to be put out before they get started. When I left there, I truly believed that I would not manage again.
"I've always missed the competition, but the last couple years stuck in my craw a little bit. I did not want my managerial career to end like that."
Because of that, he said, he's approaching his new job as if it's his first. His career will resume with a club that had its share of fires this year, from Ivan Rodriguez's personal struggles stemming from his divorce to a lack of leadership in a clubhouse that has its share of stars, many of whom missed time due to injuries.
Leyland admitted he has a lot to learn about his new club, but he knows the approach to take into it.
"One of my biggest jobs on this ballclub," Leyland said, "is to quietly convince the veteran players on this team to buy into the program that I'm going to present. If they don't, I'll probably be fired."
He doesn't want to contact any players now, not in the wake of Trammell's dismissal. But when he does, he says, they'll find that the program isn't very complicated.
"There's certain things that are not optional," he said. "Being on time, playing the game right, being a teammate, being a team player, those things aren't optional. I can assure you we will be a team. I never talk about winning to my team. What I demand of my team is to prepare to win."