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Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 4. Below are some personal choices for that honor by SI writers.
12/01/2006 12:19:00 PM

My Sportsman: Jim Leyland

Jim Leyland
Blue-collar Jim Leyland turned around baseball's laughingstock and gave a downtrodden city pride in its team.
David E. Klutho/SI

By Stephen Cannella

Shortly before Election Day, the Detroit Free Press polled its readers on who they preferred in the Michigan governor's race: incumbent Jennifer Granholm, challenger Dick DeVos or Tigers manager Jim Leyland.

Graholm was the overwhelming favorite, but Leyland -- he wasn't really on the ballot -- did get 14 percent of the vote. Keep in mind, this was after the Tigers lost the World Series in five games. Who knows what Leyland's total would have been had he been able to campaign at a victory parade.

Elevating Leyland to a state's highest office is going a bit too far (for one thing, he'd be putty in the hands of the Big Tobacco lobby), but he does get my vote for Sportsman of the Year. He fulfilled the role of the modern manager to perfection: He was equal parts psychologist, motivator, salesman and standup comedian. Sports, and sportsmen, reach their highest beauty when they're lifting the spirits of participants and fans. And whether it was the members of a downtrodden franchise or the citizens of a depressed city, no one put more smiles on more faces in 2006 than Leyland.

Measuring the value of a major league manager is tricky, a subjective exercise in a sport that prizes objective precision. Leyland didn’t drive in any runs this season. He didn't strike anyone out, and it's entirely possible that the Tigers, a team full of young talent stockpiled before he arrived, would have gone to the World Series even if Alan Trammell were still their manager in '06. (Not likely, but possible.)

But Leyland's contribution to the turnaround of baseball's laughingstock franchise -- Detroit had endured 12 straight losing seasons and was just three years removed from an American League record 119-loss season -- was made on a deeper level.

Leyland's accomplishment wasn't to teach grown men to play better baseball. It was, as Tigers closer Todd Jones said, to make those grown men feel "bulletproof." Maybe he got lucky with some lineup moves. Maybe those profane rants after early-season losses made an impression on his players. Maybe his jokes in team meetings loosened them up. Whatever the formula, Leyland reversed the mindset of a stagnant franchise, rejuvenating an organization where losing and subpar effort had become accepted, almost embraced, as part of the ritual of fielding a baseball team.

For that, Leyland became the biggest star in baseball's best story in '06. At Comerica Park, the fans routinely gave Leyland the biggest pregame ovation of anyone in a Tigers uniform. Perhaps it's because they know, deep down, he's one of them. Never mind his multimillion-dollar contract: Leyland, whose father spent 46 years building windshields at a General Motors plant in Toledo, Ohio, is an auto-worker at heart.

Leyland helped the Tigers escape their dismal recent past. And, if only for a few hours each night during the summer and fall, he helped the people of the Motor City, which has seen tens of thousands of job cuts in the auto industry, forget the harsh realities of the present.

Leyland can't make those problems go away -- after all, he's not the governor. But he can offer proof that, even in the most dire situations, there's always hope of a turnaround.

posted by sidotcom | View comments |  

Comments:

Posted: 6:12 PM   by Jim Grizzle
SI guys, just stop it there now, please.

Roger Federer, that´s the one. Just search around youtube and your eyes will fall out from seeing his mind-boggling play.

It's not worth writing any other articles about any other sportsman when this man is still alive kicking ass we have never seen before.
Posted: 7:05 PM   by Dashiell Phillips
´When all is said, we´re done.´

Oh but I haven´t seen any piece of Tiger or the far more impressive and sick Roger Federer yet.

Who is gonna make a piece of Federer? Can't wait to see the pro-american view on this one.

GOD BLESS AMERICA!
Posted: 12:59 PM   by Duke Waldron
Joey Harrington edges out Leyland for the town was never happier than when he left. Just forget about that Thanksgiving Day debacle. It was just a dream, a nightmare, the ongoing farce that is the Detroit Lions with the Tigers being a very distant second in the farcedom sweeps!
Posted: 5:32 PM   by Anonymous
Gotta go with Jim Larranaga. What a wonderful story. It even has a book coming out about it.

Great leader and role model and what sports is supposed to be about.
Posted: 5:34 PM   by JIM JANOVIAK OF COLORADO
MY SPORTSMAN: BARBARO.
THE OBVIOUS SPORTS SUCCESS STORY OF THIS ... OF ANY YEAR. A HERO AND A SURVIVOR. NOTHING PHONY OR PRETENTIOUS ABOUT THIS WINNER. NO STEROIDS. NO TATOOS. NO STUPID DANCES IN THE END ZONE. NO FIGHTS WITH HIS COACHES. WHAT WE SAW IS WHAT WE GOT. A TRUE SPORT. AND A TRUE MAN. ONE SAVING GRACE TO TODAY'S OVERLY-COMMERCIAL SPORTS WORLD. PEACE BE WITH HIM. J.J.
Posted: 5:37 PM   by Paul Shriver
I don't usually get too concerned when thinking about Sportsman of the Year because I think SI usually makes a good selection and I've seen about 42 of them since I first started subscribing. But I'm a little concerned this year because I think the obvious choice may be overlooked. I know tennis is not a typical mainstream sport, but Roger Federer's play this year has been otherworldly. I can't think of anything compararble in any other sport. How about giving him his due this year. Wimbledon four straight times, the U.S. Open three straight times as well as the Australian Open and the Masters. That pretty much speaks for itself don't you think? Besides, his play is just beautiful to watch.
Posted: 11:44 PM   by Dean Barnes
I vote for Buck O'Neil, true ambassador for baseball as well as all people. It was a shame that Hall of Fame did not induct him this year. He has provided so much to the game of baseball as well as providing a link for modern day baseball players to the experience of the Negro Leagues.
Posted: 12:09 AM   by Anonymous
Jim Leyland showed so much restraint, poise and above all talent. He catapulted a forever losing team and town to success. He instilled belief in many people, especially those in Michigan who especially need it. He deserves it. A sportsman true!
Posted: 12:10 AM   by Anonymous
Jim Leyland showed so much restraint, poise, class and above all talent. He catapulted a forever losing team and town to success. He instilled belief in many people, especially those in Michigan who especially need it. He deserves it. A sportsman true!
Posted: 10:01 PM   by Anonymous
the way jim leyland was able to turn around a depressingly horrible baseball team was amazing. I have been a long time tigers fan and this year, for the first time, i actually was unable to buy tickets to a regular season game. I showed up 2 1/2 hours before game time and they were gone. usually you could get great seats at gametime. that just shows you how one man revitalized the baseball spirit of detroit.
Posted: 11:00 AM   by Anonymous
I'm sorry that I didn't catch his name but the Sportsman of the Year, hands down, is the father of Patrick Hughes, the Louisville student that is blind and physically impaired,and is still able to play in the Louisville marching band because his father pushes him through all of the routines in a wheelchair. The father works the midnight shift for UPS and somehow during the day has the energy and the dedication to his son to take his son to band practice and learn all of the band's routines. I'm tired of all of the spoiled athletes who could care less about the fans or anyone else. They refuse to be role models, they cheat with steroids, father children out of wedlock, and have to be paid to sign a stupid autograph. Here is a man who should be recognized as a great role model for young and adult men. He's my Sportsman of the Year.
Posted: 4:05 PM   by Anonymous
As an an advid Yankee fan, and a tremendous supporter of Joe Torres'school of "quiet leadership", the only other manager I hold in the same regard is Jim Leyland. I'm 50 years old, a baseball fan since I was a boy, and I've watched Leyland in Pittsburgh and Florida (forget Colorado)get the most out of his teams. It was a tremendous treat as a baseball fan watching him lead the Tigers through-out the play-offs, and although they came up short, it stills speaks volumes on his leadership qualities.

John Perez
New Fairfield, CT
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