"Jim is always at least one or two moves ahead because he knows what he's going to do before the game," says Baltimore director of player development Syd Thrift, a former Pirate executive. "He knows which player he's not going to let beat him. He knows what personnel he wants in certain situations and has a knack for making it happen."
Leyland won three straight National League East titles, in 1990, '91 and '92, without the benefit of a true closer. In Pittsburgh's 20 League Championship Series games in those years, relievers lost only one game while Leyland got four saves and one win from five pitchers of ordinary ability: Ted Power, Bob Patterson, Bob Walk, Roger Mason and Stan Belinda.
"In the three years that we won," says Pittsburgh catcher Don Slaught, "very rarely did you ever see one of our guys face a situation where you didn't think it was our best shot. Take Stan Belinda. He may have been our closer, but there were certain guys he was never going to face. The other thing is Leyland uses every player. He likes to keep guys ready."
Last year Leyland used 18 pitchers, all but four of whom started the season with no more than a dozen lifetime major league wins. Pittsburgh played .500 baseball through June before slipping to eight games under at the time of the strike.
"His team remains competitive no matter how little talent it has," San Francisco second baseman Robby Thompson says. "He puts his players in the best position to succeed."
Says Leyland, "While I'm very appreciative, the strategy part is overrated. Every manager tries to give his players the chance to be successful. Every manager I know knows that's the key."
Overall Fundamental Skills.
He remembers being eight years old and sitting on the floor of the manager's office after every game, his back against the concrete wall. His father, the manager, would review the game chart pitch by pitch. The father made notations on index cards about mistakes that were made and needed to be called to a player's attention the next day. "That was bad baserunning," the father might tell his son, "making the third out of the inning trying to go from first to third with the number 4 hitter up next. He knows the right-fielder has a good arm, and the ball got to him on one hop. You want to be aggressive, but that's not being smart."
The heritage of baseball is fathers playing catch with sons. This was no different. Cal Ripken Sr., then a manager in minor league stops like Elmira and Rochester, tossed all this baseball wisdom, and young Cal Jr. caught as much as he could. "As a minor league manager, my dad was the manager, hitting coach, pitching coach, baserunning coach, infield instructor, you name it," Cal Jr. says. "I watched him teach players the fundamentals. I didn't think there was any other way to play."
Ripken's solid fundamentals, coupled with his encyclopedic baseball knowledge after 14 seasons in the big leagues, explains why he was a runaway winner in the polling for the best overall fundamental player. No player received even half as many votes as Ripken, and Gwynn finished a distant second.