Thursday, November 08, 2007

Is history repeating itself with the Tigers?

It was announced yesterday that the rising managerial star in the Detroit Tigers system, Matt Walbeck, had taken a major league job with the Texas Rangers as their 3rd base coach for 2008.
Ian at Bless you Boys tells us how successful Walbeck was as a minor league manager...

Walbeck was doing a fantastic job within the Tigers organization. In 2004 and 2006, he led Single-A West Michigan to the Midwest League championship, also winning the Manager of the Year award in his final season with the Whitecaps. And after moving up a level to Double-A, Walbeck managed the Erie Seawolves to a division title this past season, also winning the Eastern League's Manager of the Year award.

It was assumed that Walbeck was the in-house heir apparent to Jim Leyland. But with no timetable as to how long the Marlboro Man will remain as the Tigers skipper (Leyland, who has shown no sign of slowing down, is signed through 2009), Walbeck decided, rather than continue to labor in the minors, to enhance his resume with a big league coaching gig.

That got me to thinking how similar Walbeck's situation was to one another hotshot minor league manager who toiled in the Tigers' system back in the 70's..

Walbeck's decision was eerily similar to one Jim Leyland made in leaving the Tigers organization in the early 80's, even though he was the brightest managerial star in the their minor league system. Leyland was being groomed as a possible Tigers manager all through the 70's, and had a record to back up the hype. It was assumed that a young Marlboro Man would be the Detroit manager sooner, than later.

But the Tigers had an opportunity to hire the hottest major league manger going, an unexpectedly available Sparky Anderson, in June 1979. Rather than wait till the next off season, and risk losing Sparky to another team, the Tigers acted quickly, giving poor Les Moss the ziggy just a few months after being hired.

Obviously, once Sparky was on the scene, Leyland taking over the Tigers was not going to happen anytime soon, as Sparky had signed a 5 year contract. We all now how that turned out. Leyland saw the writing on the wall, and left for a major league coaching job with Tony LaRussa and the ChiSox, in 1982. Leyland was a big league manger a short 4 years later...

25 years after Leyland left the Tigers for greener pastures and a faster track, history seems to be repeating itself with Wallbeck. You can just insert different names. Both Leyland and Walbeck were being groomed for the Tigers job, had sparkling minor league records, and were blocked from advancement by a star manager. It's obvious that Leyand can pretty much stay with the Tigers as long as he wants. Walbeck, has seen that writing on the wall, is taking the same route as a young Jim Leyland, leaving the Tigers system to coach in the big leagues. It's, as I like to say, deja vu all over again...

In fact, there's more similarities... Leyland, has a tight relationship with Dave Dombrowski, which is very much like Sparky's loyalty, almost to a fault, to Jim Campbell. Sure, the Marlboro Man is much older than Sparky was when each respectively took over the Tigers, but I'm thinking Leyland can say how and when he may want to leave as manager. Which, much like Sparky, won't be for quite a while.

Leyland won't stay for 15+ seasons like Sparky, but I can envision a 7-8 year run for the Marlboro Man. Which is why Walbeck, much like the young Leyland, has to move on, to advance in baseball.

So if form holds, does this mean Walbeck won't get an opportunity to manage the Tigers till approximately 2032?

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