Jim Leyland was the only man that I spoke to in my adult life while he wore his under wear.
Saturday mornings were fun at Comerica Park because Leyland often laid across his couch like a runway model, puffing on a cigarette and answering media questions prior to Tigers games. I sometimes drew the Saturday morning shift to write a column or give our Detroit News beat writers Tom Gage or Lynn Henning a break.
That meant talking to Leyland who’d talk your ears off. He spun stories both on and off the record and if he really didn’t want you talking about a subject he’d say “this is way, way, way off the record.” There was a trust here that he would not get burned.
He could be gruff and engaging. I don’t really know why, but he never yelled at me during the many years of semi-covering the team. Our reporter Jeff Riger used to say “Jim Leyland really loves you.” He might have been right. I asked Leyland a question one day and he spun a long answer. Riger asked him the same question later in the day and got yelled at.
I was told that Leyland would not answer questions about steroids and Barry Bonds when I went out to do a column on Barry Bonds and steroids. I asked the question any way and I saw writers snicker because they knew my streak of not getting yelled at was about to end. But then they starting writing feverously when he answered the question.
My approach was to be direct with him and not beat around the bush.
He loved Michigan football and often told me “one of my birdies tell me Michigan is going to be good.” This was sometimes under the Rich Rod era and I told him his birdie was full of it. If you see Leyland out and about ask him about college football. You might be surprised at his passion for the sport.
He loves to hang out in casinos and often tells his waitress to keep the drinks coming “kid.” I guess when you are near 70 everybody is a kid to you.
I did not always agree with his ways but learned to understand what he was doing when he had Ryan Raburn in the lineup to run into one. His job was tough. His demeanor was sometimes gruff, but part of me is convinced some of it was simply pure emotion.
Leyland reached CD status — Cool Dude.
He will be missed.