x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Two men at the top of World Series teams also too similar

The longer it goes, the messier this World Series between the Detroit Tigers and San Francisco Giants is likely to get. Not that it this is necessarily a bad thing.

After a playing career that saw him never rise above the Double-A level in the minor leagues, Jim Leyland has made his name as a manager, first by leading the Pittsburgh Pirates to within a game of the World Series and later winning a title with the Florida (now Miami) Marlins.
After a playing career that saw him never rise above the Double-A level in the minor leagues, Jim Leyland has made his name as a manager, first by leading the Pittsburgh Pirates to within a game of the World Series and later winning a title with the Florida (now Miami) Marlins.

 

The longer it goes, the messier this World Series is likely to get. Not that it this is necessarily a bad thing.

Jim Leyland, the Detroit Tigers manager, smokes cigarettes to relieve tension, although a Michigan state law passed more than two years ago bans him from doing so inside the Tigers' home, Comerica Park.

The series opening at San Francisco might actually be a little easier on his nerves, providing he works out a way to sneak the occasional smoke in the visiting dugout hallway or somewhere else at AT&T Park.

Otherwise, he is likely to chew through a lot of nails.

Meanwhile, the go-to stress reliever for his Giants counterpart, Bruce Bochy, is dipping tobacco.

He usually puts the tins away once the season ends. But as soon as his team hit a bad period or stumble early the following spring, Bochy reaches for the dip again. So imagine how many plugs of chew the strain of the post-season is going to mean.

"The triggers for me are at the ballpark," Bochy said. "The last five years I quit during the winter. I made it deep into spring training this year."

A weakness for tobacco is not the only thing the two have in common, of course.

They might do some damage to Major League Baseball's campaign to clean up the league as far as tobacco is concerned - dip is already banned in the minor leagues and the US Congress is pushing to halt its use in big-league games, too - but baseball would be hard-pressed to find two managers whose crusty demeanours honour the game's traditions better.

Leyland, 67, is a baseball lifer who signed with the Tigers organisation as an 18-year-old catcher in 1963 and went on to hit a sickly .222 in his minor-league career. He endured eating in truck stops and being stranded on two-lane highways alongside buses with flat tyres at 4am. Eventually, he realised his only chance to stay in the game was on the bench.

His close friend, Tony La Russa, gave Leyland a hand up by giving him the third-base coaching job at Chicago with the White Sox, where La Russa began building his reputation as a baseball genius.

Leyland's ascension took longer and involved more detours.

The Pittsburgh Pirates in 1985 was the first of Leyland's four managerial stints. Despite great teams, he did not hoist a World Series trophy until the deep-pocketed Florida Marlins gave him the chance in 1997.

"This is for all the minor-league managers, the guys in the instructional leagues," he said that night at Miami. "I'm a Double-A back-up, flunky catcher. So don't give up guys."

Bochy, 57, knows how that story goes.

He, too, was a catcher, although he made it to the bigs before running out of steam as a player. A career .239 hitter, he played in one World Series game, with San Diego in 1984.

He went on to manage the club he played for - usually hamstrung by low budgets - and made it back to the World Series with the Padres in 1998 only to get swept by the New York Yankees.

Eventually he moved to San Francisco and wound up with a squad of grinders much like himself.

He got his ring in 2010.

After the Giants beat St Louis in Game 7 on Monday to return to the World Series, the comparisons were rolled out.

Like Leyland, Bochy rarely provides great sound bites for public consumption. A writer once likened him to "a two-by-four when TV cameras are on," but don't be fooled - the Giants' sometimes-zany behaviour is a reflection of the guy who leads them.

You won't get the sense how much either man has endured, let alone sacrificed, to hang around the game each loved - not unless the camera catches one or the other hiding in a corner, nervously puffing away, or pulling a plug out of a tin.

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