The last time the Phillies had a bona fide managerial search, the job came down to two choices. Either Leyland was going to get the gig as Phils’ manager or it was going to be Charlie Manuel. Sure, there were others who interviewed for the job, like Don Baylor, Buddy Bell and Terry Pendleton among others.
But Leyland was the name. After sitting out for four straight seasons, the fact that Leyland wanted to get back into managing and he wanted to make his return in Philadelphia was significant.
And make no mistake about it … Leyland really, really wanted the Phillies’ job. So much so that he ended up on first-name basis with many of the local writers because he returned phone calls.
Seriously, how could the Phillies not want Jim Leyland?
Let me explain why they didn’t hire him …
Apparently the ideas Leyland expressed to president David Montgomery and then GM Ed Wade were just a little too harebrained. Especially the ones about the corner outfielders – remember that? When asked how he would improve the Phillies, Leyland didn’t give that standard answer about how the team was put together well and just needed some luck in order to get to the postseason.
Leyland actually suggested that the Phillies were a tragically flawed team. He said the Phillies had too many strikeouts in the corner outfield positions, and that they needed a new center fielder, third baseman and catcher.
And then Leyland excused himself from the interview with Monty and Wade, went out to the CVS on Broad St. for a pack of smokes and came back to resume the interview. When Leyland returned, Wade told him he should not cancel his appointment to interview for the Mets’ managerial opening.
Shortly after that, the Phillies hired Manuel, came within a game of the wild card, fired Wade, and hired Pat Gillick. A few months later, Gillick traded right fielder Bobby Abreu, third baseman David Bell, and tried as hard as he could to get left fielder Pat Burrell to waive his no-trade clause. Gillick also allowed Mike Lieberthal to limp away via free agency, traded Jim Thome and found a center fielder who would run through the fence.
Maybe Leyland’s ideas weren’t so harebrained after all.
Leyland didn’t manage in 2005 like he had hoped. But in 2006 he was offered the job with the Tigers. At that point, the Tigers were two years removed from a 119-loss season, averaged 96 losses for the decade and had just two winning seasons since 1988.
Leyland took the Tigers to the World Series in his first year and got them back there last year with two other trips to the playoffs mixed in with three consecutive AL Central titles.
And how did Leyland get the job with the Tigers? He told them how they needed to be fixed.
Anyway, remembering back to the day Leyland interviewed with the Phillies, he wasn’t shy about sharing his ideas. When asked what his job as a manager should be, Leyland didn’t hold back:
“When you have veteran players who buy into your thought process, it eliminates a lot of nitpicking,” he said. “The veterans set the tone. Leadership is production. Putting winning numbers on the board, that's leadership. The manager is supposed to be the leader. That's not ego talking, that's just the way it is. I've said it all my life, you're either the victim or the beneficiary of your players' performance. That's as simple as this job is.”
And what elements make up a good team?
“[It's about] trying to create an atmosphere that's comfortable,” Leyland said in November of 2004. “I'm not as big on chemistry as a lot of other managers. If it works, it's wonderful. I've managed teams that ate together, played together, prayed together, and we got the [bleep] kicked out of us, and I managed some that punched each other once in a while and we won. It's getting the best out of talent. They're not all going to like me. Hopefully, they will, but I doubt it. There's nothing wrong with that, as long as you're working toward the same goal -- win.”
The Phillies ended up doing pretty well with the guy they hired instead of Leyland. Still, it’s fun to wonder about how things would have been had it gone the other way.