Jim Leyland left his living room in Thornburg, Pennsylvania, and had gone upstairs to lie down, convinced the call to Cooperstown wasn’t coming.
“They had told us it would be between 6:30 and 7:15,” he said, “but I thought when I didn’t get it by a quarter to 7, it wasn’t going to happen, so I went up just to rest a minute, kind of get my thoughts together.”
Just then, as son Pat arrived upstairs, the phone rang. Hall chairman Jane Forbes Clark was on the line and Leyland had been voted in, two weeks shy of his 79th birthday.
“There was definitely a tear in my eye,” Leyland said.
An entertaining and at-times crusty manager who led the Florida Marlins to a World Series title in 1997 and won 1,769 regular-season games over 22 seasons, Leyland received 15 of 16 votes Sunday from the contemporary era committee for managers, executives and umpires. He becomes the 23rd manager in the hall.
Honest, profane and constantly puffing on a cigarette, Leyland embodied the image of the prickly baseball veteran with a gruff but wise voice. He is 18th on the career list for manager wins but is second behind Joe McCarthy among those who never played in the major leagues. He also was ejected 73 times, tied with Clark Griffith for 10th in major league history.
Leyland’s players included Barry Bonds, Gary Sheffield, Larry Walker, Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer.
“I think young people, young players are searching for discipline,” Leyland said. “So we all have our insecurities and I think even sometimes players do, even though they’re great players. And I think that they’re always looking for that leadership. I tried to impress on them what it was to be a professional and how tough this game is to play. And I also told them almost every day how good they were.”
Former player and manager Lou Piniella fell one vote short for the second time after also getting 11 in 2018. Former player, broadcaster and NL President Bill White was two shy.
Managers Cito Gaston and Davey Johnson, umpires Joe West and Ed Montague, and general manager Hank Peters all received fewer than five votes.
Leyland managed Pittsburgh, Florida, Colorado and Detroit from 1986 to 2013. He will be inducted into the Hall on July 21 along with players voted in by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, whose balloting will be announced on Jan. 23.
Adrián Beltré, Joe Mauer, Chase Utley, David Wright, José Bautista and Matt Holliday are among the players eligible for the BBWAA ballot for the first time in the current vote. Holdovers include Todd Helton, who fell 11 votes short this year, and Billy Wagner, who was 27 shy.
Leyland grew up in the Toledo, Ohio, suburb of Perrysburg. He was a minor league catcher and occasional third baseman in the Tigers organization from 1965-70, never rising above Double-A and finishing with a .222 batting average, four homers and 102 RBIs.
“Being not a very good player myself, I realized how hard it was to play the game,” he said.
Leyland coached in the Tigers minor league system, then started managing with Bristol of the Appalachian Rookie League in 1971. After 11 seasons as a minor league manager, he left the Tigers to serve as Tony La Russa’s third base coach with the Chicago White Sox from 1982-85, then embarked on a major league managerial career that saw him take over the Pirates from 1986-96.
The Pittsburgh Press was said to have run a headline: “Jim Who?”
“Yeah, it was `Jim Who?’ when I got here and, you know, I’m still here,” Leyland said. “At least people know me a little better than they did when I first got here.”
Pittsburgh got within one out of a World Series trip in 1992 before Francisco Cabrera’s two-run single in Game 7 won the NL pennant for Atlanta. The Pirates sank from there following the departures of Bonds and ace pitcher Doug Drabek as free agents, and Leyland left after Pittsburgh’s fourth straight losing season in 1996. Five days following his last game, he chose the Marlins over the White Sox, Red Sox and Angels.
Florida won the title the next year in the franchise’s fifth season, the youngest expansion team to earn a championship at the time. But the Marlins sold off veterans and tumbled to 54-108 in 1998, and Leyland left for the Rockies. He quit after one season, saying he lacked the needed passion, and worked as a scout for the St. Louis Cardinals.
“I did a lousy job my last year of managing,″ Leyland said then. ”I stunk because I was burned out. When I left there, I sincerely believed that I would not manage again. … I always missed the competition, but the last couple of years — and this stuck in my craw a little bit — I did not want my managerial career to end like that.”
He replaced Alan Trammell as Tigers manager ahead of the 2006 season and stayed through 2013.
Leyland’s teams finished first six times and went 1,769-1,728. He won American League pennants in 2006, losing to St. Louis in a five-game World Series, and 2012, getting swept by San Francisco. Leyland was voted Manager of the Year in 1990, 1992 and 2006, and he managed the U.S. to the 2017 World Baseball Classic championship, the Americans’ only title.
Now he’s alongside the elite.
“It’s the final stop,” Leyland said. “To land there in Cooperstown, it doesn’t get any better than that. I mean, that’s the ultimate. I certainly never thought it was going to happen. Most people probably don’t. But it did, and I’m sure I’m going to enjoy it.”