In 1997, Leyland piloted the World Champion Florida Marlins. They were truly a team that was built for a one season run. Former Phillie Darren Daulton was part of that club and played a big role in their success. No sooner was the series over and ownership gutted the club, getting rid of the best - and most expensive - of the players. When opening day of the '98 season came around, the team was a mere shell of itself. The team that went 92-70 in 1997 went an embarrassing 54-108 in '98. It went overnight from being a franchise with a bright future to being a franchise in decline. Before long, owner Wayne Huzienga would sell the club and further cloud the future of the team.
Leyland then exited Florida for the head job with the Colorado Rockies. He inherited a talented team with stars like Larry Walker, Vinny Castilla and Dante Bichette. Unfortunately, there weren't enough stars or enough talent and the Rockies finished 72-90, fifth in the NL West. After that season, Leyland had enough and went into a semi-retirement. Before long, the Cardinals came to call and offered Leyland a part-time scouting job that would have him go only to Pittsburgh and Cleveland. He could stick close to home and have few pressures. He accepted and has been hanging around the game he loves ever since, with nary a thought of returning to a manager's office - until now.
For 11 seasons, Leyland managed the Pittsburgh Pirates. He went from lows of having player like Mark Parent and Jacob Brumfield in his starting lineup to having stars like Barry Bonds and Doug Drabek to lean on. Leyland and his Pirates captured three straight National League East titles during his tenure even though the Pirates generally lagged behind other clubs in payroll and star power. Of course, there were rough times too, as the Pirates finished fifth four times and six once during Leyland's era with the club.
Time away has supposedly given Leyland a new love for the game. He is 59 now and has slowly developed an interest to return to managing. When the Phillies first asked, he was somewhat less than lukewarm about the idea. Before they concluded their interviews though, Leyland had put his name on the list and will come to Philadelphia on Friday for his day in the sun.
So, is time away a good thing or a bad thing?
The first reaction from a lot of fans is that five years away from the game is an eternity. A lot changes and the game moved on without Leyland in a dugout. For five seasons now, Leyland has had much less contact with players and is far removed from the daily struggles of a clubhouse filled with millionaires.
It should be noted too, that Leyland's enthusiasm is limited. Geographically, he wants to stay near his base in Pittsburgh, meaning that the Phillies and Mets are of interest. Baseball-wise, he has limited himself to teams with a higher upside, meaning that the Diamondbacks need not call. Even if Arizona were closer to Pittsburgh, Leyland is not in the mood for a long, drawn out rebuilding plan.
So Friday, Leyland will interview for the manager's job with the Phillies. He'll likely look refreshed - at least as refreshed as he ever looks - and will likely forego smoking during the interview as he was known to do during games. What will likely happen is that he'll talk about his past. He may even flash his World Series ring to be sure Ed Wade and the Phillies' contingent notices. Then, he'll meet with the media and head for home. Are the Phillies truly interested? They must be, because there would be no ulterior motive to interviewing Leyland. He's not a minority candidate that they would feel compelled to interview and he's not a former Phillie being given a courtesy visit. Whether or not the Phillies will decide he is refreshed remains to be seen.
Leyland isn't the only one feeling refreshed. While Leyland's Pirates were struggling near the bottom of the division in 1993, the Phillies were near the top, guided by Jim Fregosi. You have to figure that somewhere along the line, these two guys bummed a cigarette or two from each other and now, they're interviewing for the same job on back-to-back days. Fregosi of course, has ties to Philadelphia and has the advantage of being the last manager to guide the Phillies to the post-season. He too, has been away from the dugout, working as a scout for the Atlanta Braves. Now though, he's interested in a second run with the Phillies. Are they interested in him? You would have to think so, although the team admits that they fear the fan reaction might not be positive. Who knows where they're looking, but an internet poll on their own web site shows Fregosi running second to only Grady Little in fan preference. Of course, that was before Jim Leyland entered the fray.
Even though the Phillies insist there is no front-runner, you have to figure that this race comes down to Little and Charlie Manuel. Some pundits say the Phils were enamored with Little, others say they were disappointed. Some say it's all a formality because Manuel will get the job, while others say Manuel will, at best, be the hitting coach. For now, it's just a process. A process that has two formerly burned out managers looking for another shot at glory.
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