After his world championship team was dismantled by ownership in a shameless salary purge, Jim Leyland today decided to step down as manager of the Florida Marlins.
Leyland had three years and $4.5 million left on his original five-year contract, but exercised an out clause that pays him $500,000 if the team is sold and he informs the organization of his plans to leave before October 11th.
However, Leyland made it clear today that he hopes to manage a major league team in 1999.
"I want to manage and I would like to manage this season," said Leyland, who addressed the media in a teleconference call from his home in Pittsburgh. "But it's not a necessity. I will not rush into anything. If something is available, I have to make sure it's a match for both sides."
Regarded as one of the top managers in baseball, Leyland will undoubtedly be highly sought after by teams looking for a manager, including Los Angeles, Colorado and Detroit.
Leyland became Florida's third manager in 1996 and led the club to its first playoff appearance the following year as the National League wild-card team. The Marlins went on to win the World Series in just their fifth year, defeating the Cleveland Indians in seven games.
But it soon became apparent that the Marlins could not repeat. Owner Wayne Huizenga had committed $89 million on free agents like Moises Alou, Alex Fernandez and Bobby Bonilla prior to the 1997 season, but later said he lost more than $30 million in the process.
The team proceeded to unload star players like Moises Alou, Robb Nen, Devon White, Kevin Brown and Al Leiter during the offseason, drastically reducing the payroll. Gary Sheffield, Charles Johnson and Bobby Bonilla were dealt away in a stunning trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 15th for Mike Piazza and Todd Zeile, who were eventually shipped out for prospects.
Leyland had the option of leaving the Marlins last season when Huizenga put the team up for sale, but eventually chose to stay. But this season's losing apparently was enough to convince Leyland to leave.
Ironically, it was the same type of cost-cutting that helped the Marlins land Leyland. He left the Pittsburgh Pirates after the 1996 season after becoming frustrated with their inability to hold onto their top players, such as Barry Bonds and Denny Neagle.
Leyland became Pittsburgh's manager in 1986 and led the Pirates to three NL East championships. In 13 seasons, the 53-year-old Leyland has a career record of 996-1039.
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