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Leyland Reflects On Long Career, Days With Pirates

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – He recently retired with the Detroit Tigers, but Jim Leyland spent a decade as the Pirates skipper.

Now he's talking about everything from his retirement speech to his days in Pittsburgh and whether he thinks he's had a Hall of Fame career.

"I was so proud of myself," Leyland said pf not getting too emotional during his retirement announcement.

But not as happy as the day the Pirates identified him as managerial material back in the mid-1980s.

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At that time, Pittsburgh was just coming off the drug trials in the '80s and the team had lost 104 games.

KDKA-TV Sports' Bob Pompeani: "Why in the world would you take that as your first managerial job?"

Leyland: "It was to me. It was the only one I was offered, I told that to a lot of people … I knew they had a lot of issues, tough issues here going on, but I can remember someone saying 'Why would you want to take that job?' and saying 'Hey, I'm a minor league guy and I'm not going to inherit the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles or the Los Angeles Dodgers. I got to take a shot at something where I can prove myself.'"

He did, as he changed the culture and the record, but it took some bold moves, like trading his most popular player.

"I can remember Tony Pena was the one guy that we had that might, you know, bring something back," Leyland said.

It brought them Andy Van Slyke, Mike Lavalliere and three straight division championships. Regretfully, it did not bring a World Series.

"That would be the one regret in Pittsburgh," he said. "You know, I wanted to get there so bad because we, you know, we had the atmosphere trying to turn it around. I don't know if we turned it around as much as that game against Cincinnati a couple weeks ago … we wanted to get that big one and we never did."

Through the process, Leyland did make a name for himself, but it took a blowup on his best player to do it.

When asked if Spring Training in 1991 with Barry Bonds put him on the map in terms of national recognition, Leyland says he certainly hopes not.

"I don't want that to be my defining moment. I think it was with people here to be honest with you. I think a lot of people like that here. I just don't really want to be known for that because that was just a reaction. I just talked to Barry a couple days ago in fact. He just called me to congratulate me. It was a great conversation," he says.

After leaving Pittsburgh in 1996, many felt Leyland quit on the Pirates.

"I was really upset with some Pittsburgh people when they felt like I betrayed them and left because I didn't think that was fair," Leyland said. "I think now people realize that I probably made the best decision I could for my career and really, probably for the Pirates. I didn't ever want to leave Pittsburgh, it was home. But I didn't want to get in my car and go to work everyday knowing that we're going to get beat unless everything goes exactly right."

While he was gone, Leyland won a World Series with the Marlins and changed the course of Detroit Tiger history.

Which begs the question: Is he a Hall of Fame manager?

"I don't really know the answer to that. I have thought about it. It all depends on if the voters are understanding. If they're understanding, I would say I have a shot. If they're not, then I would say I don't have a shot. It depends on if they take into consideration that I didn't inherit the Yankees or someone like that. We had to start from scratch."

Being the 15th with the best winning numbers in the game and more wins than 10 current Hall of Fame managers, some believe it's not much of a debate.

"I had a Hall of Fame career in my mind. I'm very satisfied with my career. I'm thrilled with it," Leyland added.

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