What it's Like in the Clubhouse
Jim Leyland is not off to a good start this year. By that I mean, with the media. This year, more than in the past, he has been a little grumpy. Reporters crowd into his office every day at about 3:45 for a 7:05 game. He smokes and swears a lot, that's not new. But he routinely gives the shortest answers possible. Writers will tell you there's a very noticeable difference this year.
One writer asked, "Have we overstayed our welcome this month? The sessions have been pretty curt and brusque."
Leyland lit a cigarette and gave this response: "I don't think so. It just seems like I talk a lot, so I waste a lot of time. I just answer your questions. That's what you're in here for. I'll have an answer for any questions you have. I'd be glad to do it. But, I'm not just going to sit around and tell stories. No, nobody's ever unwelcome. That's my job to respond to your questions. So, any questions you have, I'll be happy to answer them."
Honest to God, the very next question, which was from me, was, "Is there any sort of limit for Verlander tomorrow (Saturday)?" Verlander threw 131 pitches on Monday. Leyland, "of course there's a limit. What do you mean?" I say, "His pitch count." Leyland says, "That's ridiculous. I'm not going to get into that." He's pretty much saying, "I'll answer your questions, just not that one."
"I've been here seven years," he said. "We try to watch every pitcher we have with common sense. So, I'm not going to get into Verlander's pitch count every time he pitches. Just like every time a ground ball goes by Cabrera somebody acts like every other third baseman would've caught it. That's ridiculous. I haven't seen it that way at all. In fact, I think he's been tremendous. I was talking to Robin Ventura in Chicago and he gives two minutes, or something like that. And the writers are like, ‘well, we're used to Ozzie (Guillen).' So I think that maybe I talk too much. I want you to ask questions. Any questions you have, I'll answer them. I have no problem answering questions. That's what I'm here for. That's you guys' jobs and it's my job to answer your questions. You can stay as long as you want, if you've got a question. I think the press is treated pretty good here. I've never heard any complaints. As much time you need, you can have. But idle time to just sit around and bull----, doesn't make much sense."
The writer who asked the original question about the short sessions said, "That's why I had to ask, I didn't know if there was any change." Leyland said, "No. Not at all. I enjoy the press. But I'm not going to answer the same silly questions all the time about Verlander's pitch count, or every time a ground ball gets into left field everybody thinks Cabrera should've caught it. I don't see it that way at all, so there's no sense getting into it, because it's only going to piss me off."
What he's saying is, ‘I'll answer your questions, as long as it's not this, this, this, this or that."
I went into the visiting clubhouse to talk with Rangers manager Ron Washington. Total night and day difference. He's approachable, polite, and even shakes hands with media members as they leave his office. I asked why he's so friendly with the media. "The media is an outlet to get out there what you want out there. I'm the spokesman for the Texas Rangers, and I don't want them writing bad things about the Texas Rangers. They can do it about me, but I don't want them doing it about the Texas Rangers. This is my job, and they're doing their job. As long as they're doing their job in a respectful manner, I feel like I owe that respect back."
Gee, that was tough. Being a friendly guy might not be in Leyland's DNA. He can be talkative or nice, or not. He can be cooperative. Or not.
A lighter moment came when I asked Leyland about Navin Field. This is the 100th anniversary of the opening of the park that would become Tiger Stadium. I asked him if he had a favorite memory of the stadium. He said, "Navin Field? How the f--- old do you think I am?" He then got a little more serious. "To be honest, I was at a few games at Tiger Stadium, but I was never a part of a major league scene there. My favorite memory was watching The Bird come back and pitch in September after I'd had him down in the minors. I saw the World Series game where Gibson hit the home run against San Diego off Gossage. I was here for that game. I was a minor league guy. 75 years from now, if you want to ask me about Comerica, I'll give you a couple good ones."
I then went to Prince Fielder, who grew up in big league clubhouses with his now estranged father, Cecil. I asked if he had a favorite memory of Tiger Stadium. There has to be something, right? I don't know… arm-wrestling Tony Phillips, or something. Tell me something, Prince, anything! Does he have a favorite memory? His response, "Not really, no." It's unfortunate to see that the guy who'll become the face of the franchise apparently has the personality of a wall.