Tigers have bite back

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 11:12 AM ET

Former Tigers' pitcher Dan Petry was on a radio program recently talking about the Tigers old but new manager Jim Leyland.

"He's like the father you don't want to disappoint," said Petry.

Now if the Tigers really think that way, this team may be finally moving out of baseball's abyss.

Because that's sounds like we're talking respect. When you can get major league baseball players to respect anyone, then you've found a big block in the material needed to rebuild your team.

The Tigers have been sucking air like a fish out of water the last decade, bringing in managers with big names, big reputations and big traditions. Buddy Bell, Larry Parrish, Phil Garner and Alan Trammell all failed. As a longtime Tiger, Trammell, especially, was supposed to bring back that Tiger tradition he was such a part of.

But in today's baseball tradition that means very little. If you can't handle players, if they suddenly stop playing for you, you might as well polish up your resume because you'll be needing it.

Earlier this week Tigers first-baseman Chris Shelton, who has had a great start to the season, was asked if the clubhouse was more peaceful this year thanks to the Tigers' decent start.

"Everyone thinks the clubhouse had problems last year," said Shelton. "We didn't have problems. It was just frustration because we weren't playing well. That's when trouble starts."

That's when you have to believe that your manager will be able to do something to get you out of trouble.

Leyland managed in the bigs for 14 years, winning a World Series and earning the reputation as a manager with a real passion for the game, a manager most players loved to play for.

But as manager for the Colorado Rockies in 1999, Leyland lost that passion. He didn't have the strength to deal with everything a big-league manager needed to deal with. He burned out. He didn't think he ever wanted to manage again.

He spent six years away from the managers ranks. He took it easy. He scouted. He recharged his batteries. He found he still had the competitive desire.

When the Tigers realized that Trammell needed to go and Leyland was available, they snapped him up in a hurry.

He's back with the Tigers, an organization he started with about 42 years ago in Lakeland.

"I just think that if we play the way he tells us to play, we'll win," said Shelton.

This is a more peaceful Tigerland.

Leyland promises the Tigers will be better but he's been around long enough to know they have a long way to go before they are contenders.

So that's what he says.

Some members of the media began to talk about important games, important series, the importance of showing the Tiger faithful that this team is going to be better, Leyland acknowledges the patience the fans have shown and he doesn't want them to have to wait another few years for the Tigers to be competitive.

"But it's only April. There's a lot things to do," he said.

It's all about balance. Leyland won't be pushed into saying anything he doesn't want to say.

Leyland is 61. There will be setbacks and losing streaks and the questions will be asked about whether the game has passed him by.

So why should Tiger fans expect anything different than in years past?

Check out the name's in yesterday's 1-0 win over the Cleveland Indians putting the Tigers at 7-5.

Shelton hit his major league-leading eighth home run, backing pitcher Mike Maroth.

Joel Zumaya got out of a two-on jam in the eighth, striking out Grady Sizemore and Jason Michaels. Fernando Rodney completed the four-hitter with a perfect ninth for his third save in as many chances.

New names. Young names. Names built on the farm. There's others like Justin Verlander and Curtis Granderson. It's been a lot of years since the Tigers have developed young players.

They have pitching. Decent pitching and pitching covers a lot of blemishes.

And Leyland comes to this team at the right time. He's always been considered a very good manager.

You never lose your ability to manage a team on the field but he's grown in knowledge that helps outside the lines.

Leyland knows how to put out the little fires that start in every clubhouse before they turn into an inferno.


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