Leyland, Tigers take postponement in stride
DETROIT -- Why sweat the small stuff? This is among the many lessons that the Tigers' Jim Leyland has learned during 48 years in professional baseball, including 21 as a Major League manager.
"I think you just have to have the right mind-set for anything that comes up," Leyland said. "And I think that's what makes good teams."
Game 4 of the American League Championship Series was rained out on Wednesday. The Tigers sat around for a couple of hours, and when the decision was made to call the game, the rain hadn't begun to fall.
Leyland knows that players take their cues from their manager. If he's stressed out about a situation, they're more likely to be stressed out. That may have been especially important with the Tigers leading the best-of-seven series, 3-0, and on the cusp of winning their first AL pennant in six years.
Fans packed Comerica Park on an evening of expectation and possibility. Then it ended before it began. If a manager was inclined to wring his hands, he'd wonder what the extra rest would do to his starting pitcher, Max Scherzer.
He might also wonder if the day off would slow the momentum the Tigers have built. Just is important is how the day off might affect the Yankees. Will it give them a chance to regroup and get back in the series? Or will it tighten the pressure?
Maybe it means nothing at all, but even if it does, there's nothing Leyland could do about it.
"There's no sense worrying about things you don't control," he said. "And the better you can get that across to your players, I think the better everybody is.
"For instance, I never worry about rain situations, because [if] the good Lord has it rain, it rains. The players say, 'How long is it going to rain?' I think I'm pretty good, but I have no idea how long it's going to rain.
"Are they going to pull the tarp at 8:30? I have no idea. Roll with every punch and don't get too excited as a manager. I think when you do, it rubs off on your players. So I think you try to take everything in stride the best way you can, and so be it."
That's how the Tigers reacted on Wednesday night as they stood in front of their lockers and answered more questions about, well, nothing.
"How can weather be a distraction?" catcher Alex Avila said. "It's weather. Some days, it rains. Some days, it doesn't."
Whether the day off will affect the series in any meaningful way is irrelevant.
"It's out of our control," Avila said. "We're sitting in here bored out of our minds. A lot of things in this game you can't control, so you don't worry about it."
Leyland's belief that players pay attention to the tone their manager sets comes from a lifetime of experience, from six years as a Minor League player to 11 years as a Minor League manager to becoming one of the most respected big league managers in history.
For instance, he seldom goes into the clubhouse. He keeps the lines of communication open by making the rounds of his players during batting practice and at other times.
But he believes -- strongly -- that players run the clubhouse.
"I think you kind of try to orchestrate everything, but I think you give the players their space," he said. "You trust your players. You trust their ability. You trust they will have themselves ready to play. And you try to stay out of the way. I mean, they're the show. That's the way it is supposed to be. So I try to show them that respect. I think it is one of those things where sometimes you have to earn respect, and sometimes you have to lose respect. And so I try to just do my job and not talk too much about it, and hopefully, you gain their respect."
To keep his cool this season had to be extraordinarily difficult. The Tigers were favored to dominate the AL Central, but thanks to injuries, slumps and the like, theirs was a ride of inconsistency and frustration.
They didn't get above .500 for good until the 85th game of the season and didn't get past the White Sox to stay until the 155th.
Asked if this was his most stressful season, Leyland said, "I definitely think so. That's a great question. I think it goes with the territory, and I think we probably need it. I think that's what makes us tick.
"You know, a lot of people always talk about managers sitting there at the end of a game, like last night or something, 'Look how calm the manager looks sitting there.' You are not calm. Trust me. Your heart is really pumping. If it is not, you should go home. I think you try to use the stress to your advantage. I think that's what you do. Because it is there. It is supposed to be there. It is going to be there. And you just have to learn how to handle it. And it's not easy, but it is definitely stressful, trust me."
As to how a season's stress wears on a manager, Leyland said, "I always got a kick out of when I go home at the end of a baseball season, and somebody says, 'Boy, you look bad.' And I always tell them, 'Well, show me a manager that looks like Paul Newman after 162 games, and I will show you a guy that didn't do a very good job.'"
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.