The grand ol' game losing another beloved name
Leyland joins McCarver, Davey in closing of colorful era in baseball
NEW YORK -- My personal odometer reads 65 years and four months. There is good in that; with age comes a sense of self-satisfaction that I've been watching long enough to have seen a substantial amount that younger folks in my midst have missed -- Cronkite, Carson and Andy Rooney, Elvis, Sinatra and the Kramdens and the three center fielders who graced New York in the 50's. And I spent an unimaginable hour, one on one, with Casey.
A downside exists, too; a troubling sort of sadness develops when what and who I have found enlightening, entertaining and fun become less available.
So damn, Jim Leyland has retired.
Davey Johnson has managed his last game. Double damn.
And, dag-nabbit, Tim McCarver is about to begin his swan song.
I wanted none of that. Thank God Scully's giving us more.
We've known of Johnson's and McCarver's "no mas" plans for some time, not that knowing makes their pending absence any more palatable. And now the hat trick for baseball men of a certain age. Leyland has stepped down. Gosh dern.
With the World Series on deck and in the aftermath of riveting playoff series, we get this sad news about one of the most successful managers of our time. Not sad for him, but for us. That's two dugouts and one TV booth that will be conspicuously different next season.
The departures of Leyland, Davey and McCarver from the comfortable everyday-ness of the game come only a few years after Torre, Cox, Piniella and La Russa bid us adieu. And Trader Jack and the White Rat have been out of the game even longer. So where are folks in my business to turn for baseball wit, wisdom, insights, anecdotes and entertainment?
I lament the passing of the characters from the game. And I decry the loss of the self-assured guys who never are stumped for a response to hello or afraid to explain their batting order or choice of reliever. They are members of an endangered species.
The game is losing personalities the way the 2003 Tigers lost games -- in bunches. (They weren't Leyland's team.) Now that Leyland has taken leave, what's left for those of us who believe war is a lower-case noun, not a measurement of value, those who enjoy lunch with the scouts in Spring Training and can't get enough Fredi, Gardy, Ventura, Boch, Collins and Hurdle?
The game has serious-ed up and become a little colder. The at ease of it has been displaced to a great degree by "Attention". Some of the skippers have read too much Belichick and adopted his "never smile" policy.
With the possible exceptions of Vern Rapp and Eddie Haas, no manager in the last 40 years has taken the game more seriously than Leyland, not even the stone faces of St. Louis, La Russa or Matheny. But Leyland could and did share a laugh during BP and leave the game at the ballpark.
Due-diligence Dave Dombrowski, the skilled and resourceful GM of the Tigers, will have made a good decision when he introduces Leyland's successor. He will be hard pressed, though, to find a successor who will prosper as deftly as Leyland has, despite the angst of the position and the expectations, given the Tigers' personnel. Will Dombrowski find a man to run a game and a bullpen so successfully and also retain charm and civility?
From a purely selfish standpoint, I sense the next man to signal for a Tigers' pitchout won't be as much fun to cover as Leyland has been in all his incarnations. Will the next guy share so much of himself? Will he show his teeth postgame and then forget his anger while toweling off? Leyland knows how to wash off the game. He wouldn't fuss over a failed maneuver. But he'd recall it forever.
He was equipped for almost any challenge 162 workdays could present. The many extended conversations he and his friend La Russa have had over the years hardly were monologues. They were sharing knowledge and savvy that few others could match. They spoke in their own shorthand with terms and phrases not familiar to the masses. It was fascinating.
My age and their trust put me in position to listen -- and learn -- during the Tigers' 2012 spring camp. La Russa, less than six months retired, was Leyland's guest in Lakeland, Fla., for days. They were Rodgers and Hammerstein, Woodward and Bernstein, Wooden and Knight. At times, and in some treasured-in-a-different-way moments, they were Laurel and Hardy, Sylvester and Tweetie Pie. I kept my mouth shut. Dear sweet access.
A conversation between Torre and Kaat at Citi Field in 2010, one I was privileged to monitor, had the same attributes. It was deep baseball. Two PhD's talking. I shushed myself. You can observe a lot by watching (and listening).
• • •
Leyland was a good interview, though many of our more recent manager-reporter sessions ran outside the baseline and found their way to old rock and roll. We shared a passion. I urged him to see Jersey Boys. He said he owes me for that. I was headed to my hotel room in Louisville at the 1993 Winter Meetings. It was past midnight and my eyes were closing. I had pushed the button for the elevator when I heard "Noble, come on, we're singing."
The button wasn't pushed again until 3:15. He can sing. I owe him for that.
Leyland has sung on stage with Pittsburgh's Skyliners ("Since I Don't Have You, 1959, Calico Records and No. 3 in on my Top 40). He and I sang it that night in Louisville, though our version might have been unrecognizable to the group.
If and when our paths cross in 2014, I might have to sing it to him.
The game will miss you, James.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.