Originally written October 23, 2012 on Fox Sports Detroit:
It wasnt all that long ago that Detroit Tigers fans wanted to burn Jim Leyland in effigy. Now, after five magical weeks, they want to toast the Tigers manager instead. Getting his team to the World Series, which opens Wednesday night in San Francisco, has done wonders for Leyland's image. When the Tigers were three games behind the White Sox with 16 to play, he was labeled an out-of-touch curmudgeon who had to go. But after rallying to shred the White Sox, As and Yankees, he's once again a manager whom players love to play for and a master of the game. Funny thing is, Leyland hasnt changed and seemed to enjoy relaying fan-reaction stories to reporters in recent days. I did get one interesting comment, says Leyland, a smile slowly crossing his face. I was out and I actually had a guy come up to me and say, Great job! And I want to apologize for being mean to you all year long.' When Leyalnd kept playing Ryan Raburn... kept putting Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde into pressure situations... kept looking up at the White Sox in the standings and appearing to mismanage a wealth of talent... well, fans fumed. They used Leylands name in vain... said there's no way the Tigers should offer him another contract... endorsed anybody but Leyland for manager. Well, now alls forgiven. Fans are begging for Leyland's autograph while he waits in line at the bank or at the pancake house he frequents. He poses for more photos than a politician. He's even been invited to a wedding by folks he just met. Last Saturday, with Leyland minding his own business at the bar inside Detroit's Atheneum hotel -- trying to watch the Michigan-Michigan State game -- the wedding reception there took on a Tigers flavor when some of the men in tuxedos noticed who was in their midst. They offered to buy him drinks, which Leyland declined in favor of the glass of tomato juice in front of him. They asked him to pose with the bride and groom, which he did. I ended up taking pictures with all of em, Leyland says. He drew the line, however, at accepting an impromptu invitation to attend the reception because he didn't want to upstage the newlyweds. Leyalnd shakes his head, that slow smile crossing his face again, and says, Im on Twitter, every Facebook in the world today with some bride that got married last night. Then Leyland pauses and says, They were really nice people. Its so nice. Im running into people all over. Its neat. Its people. Its life. Its great. He knows many of them very recently wanted him run out town, along with longtime hitting coach Lloyd McClendon, and close friend and third base coach Gene Lamont. But after 49 years in professional baseball and 21 years as a big-league manager, Leyland understands how it goes. They dont hate a manager or hate a player, says Leyland, who has 1,676 regular-season victories. They hate losing. He gets that its nothing personal. Still, hes human. You could see the look on his face in the dugout five weeks ago, when it all seemed to be going down the drain -- along with his time as the manager of a franchise he loves, in a town he loves. He was shaken; he was toast. Now hes being toasted. Although Tigers fans are fickle, Leyland's team had his back all the way. Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera politely confiscated a Fire Leyland sign from a fan in Chicago in September, and defending AL MVP Justin Verlander says of his manager: Hes never rah-rah. He just trusted us. He didnt freak out. Leyland's loyalty and stability wins out. He turns 68 on Dec. 15 and doesnt have a contract for next season. It was widely assumed the Tigers wouldn't invite Leyland back without at least a Central Division title. They got that and more, and amid the AL pennant celebration, Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski gave Leyland a resounding vote of confidence, adding that there's a time and place for coming to terms. Leyland says he wants to return, but brushes aside any conversation about contracts right now. Just like refusing to attend that wedding reception, he doesnt want to upstage his team as it prepares for a second World Series in seven seasons.
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