"To be a good player, you've gotta have a little a------ in you," says Jim Leyland. In Wednesday's pregame news conference, as he opened up fan mail, Leyland expanded on what he said earlier in the day downtown to the Detroit Economic Club.
He said all good teams need to develop a mean streak. "You've gotta
have a little mean streak in you in order to be as good as you should
be. I've never seen many good players or good teams that didn't have a
little selfishness in them. And I mean that in a good way. I'm not
talking about some sort of dirty baseball, I'm just saying an
aggressive, tough a--, mean streak. I think it's real important. There
are times to be a nice guy and a gentleman, but it's not when the game
starts. You've got to have a little a------ in you. You'd better be a
tough son-of-a-b---- to play 162 games, when everybody's got an eye on
you and wants a piece of you."
As Leyland says this, he's not indicating anything about this particular team. "I'm just saying, all good players have a little bit of (jerk) in them. Look at all the champions in all the sports, football, basketball, whatever you want to do, there's a little bit of meanness during the course of the season when the umpire says ‘play ball'."
He says it was something the 2006 team had to learn. "In 2006, we had
good players, but didn't have a good team. They made themselves into a
good team. They started to believe in themselves and get a swagger about
them. Everybody started to believe that they were a good team. They
believed in one another. That was a little bit different. This here's a
"We have a bunch of wonderful guys, but they're tough. I just want to make sure that we're aware of the challenge that we have. In order to do it, you probably won't win the ‘most popular boy' contest… which I won in high school, by the way, but let's not get into that."
"You've got to have a certain attitude," says Hall of Famer Al
Kaline. "I'm going to beat you, you're not going to beat me. I think
your mindset has got to be that every day. You don't have to show it
outwardly, but inside, you've got to say you're not going to beat me,
and if you do, I'm going to get you next time, and never give in. To be a
good hitter, you've got to be a very positive thinking person. ‘The guy
on the mound is in trouble, I'm not.' That's the attitude you have to
have. And if you can carry that through the whole season, you should be
pretty good. But unfortunately, you get beat down in this game, because
mentally, it just wears you down."
The 1968 team had that attitude he was talking about. It was a never-say-die type of team that came from behind in the seventh inning or later to win 40 times in that season. They also had their share of bench-clearing brawls. "I don't condone fighting, or any of that stuff," he says. "But you have to draw a line someplace when you think somebody's taking advantage of you. That's part of being a team. These guys are very tight. These guys live together all summer long. When you're winning, you don't let anybody take advantage of you."
A Bonderman Comeback?
Jeremy Bonderman is hoping for a new life in baseball. Yesterday, he underwent Tommy John surgery to repair his throwing arm. He's reportedly hoping to make a bid for a job in the majors next season. He made his debut with the Tigers in 2003 as a 20 year-old, and won't turn 30 until October.
Leyland was surprised to hear the news. "You're kidding," he said. Bonderman, who was once viewed as a potential future ace, hasn't pitched in the majors since 2010 when he went 8-10 and had an ERA of 5.53 in 29 starts. His appeared to be on the verge of a great career until 2008, when he underwent shoulder surgery for a blood clot. He was never the same. It robbed him of a lot of his velocity. "He's one of the good guys, good for him," says Leyland. "I hope it works out."
Matt Wentworth is a FOX 2 Producer, author and freelance writer for MLB.com. Follow Matt all season long as he follows the team on Twitter @TigersDreamJob.