Leyland Manages Last Pirates Home Game
PITTSBURGH (AP) _ The score didn’t matter, and neither did the game. All the fans cared about was saying goodbye to Jim Leyland, and they did it for hours.
Leyland managed his last home game in Pittsburgh on Wednesday night, and the Pirates asked to throw an elaborate night in his honor with gifts, tributes and speeches. He wouldn’t have it.
So the fans made it his night instead.
They gave him five long, loud standing ovations during an 8-7, 11-inning St. Louis victory that lasted nearly four hours, and they stayed for 15 minutes afterward for an emotional outpouring that reduced even Cardinals manager Tony La Russa to tears.
The 20,022 fans _ three times what the Pirates usually would attract for a midweek home game in September _ simply wouldn’t let go at the end. It was almost as if they were pleading for him not to go.
``That says it all,″ said Leyland, who cried throughout his post-game news conference. ``It was unbelievable.″
Leyland was glad he turned down the Pirates’ request for a staged event, because the emotion and outpouring of respect was clearly genuine and unrehearsed.
Leyland even drew two standing ovations for changing pitchers.
``As great as people think he is, he’s more than that,″ said La Russa, who gave Leyland his first major-league job as a coach in 1982. ``I know Whitey (Herzog) was popular in St. Louis, but I don’t think any manager has ever been loved like that.″
Leyland asked to be released from the final four years on his contract so he could manage a contending club, almost certainly Florida. He is expected to sign on with the Marlins as early as next week, and the rebuilding Pirates will seek only their fifth manager in a quarter century.
``He wants to manage only another 3-4-5 years, and he wants another shot at the World Series,″ La Russa said.
On Leyland’s last night at home, there were a few special touches and some tears for the man with the longest tenure of any current major league manager or professional coach, but no ceremony.
There was a salute from President Clinton during a fifth-inning scoreboard tribute that drew a loud standing ovation. Even the visiting Cardinals exited their dugout to tip their hats.
``I don’t want this to be a sad night,″ said Leyland, whose 847-859 record does not accurately reflect his impact upon the Pirates or the city. ``I’ve had a great time here, and I don’t know if any manager has a better relationship with the fans than I do.″
To prove that, he spent a half-hour signing autographs for fans lined up six hours before the game began
``I’m not leaving Pittsburgh,″ Leyland said. ``This is still my home. I’m just going away for awhile and get things sorted out. This is what’s best for me. But Pittsburgh will always be my home, and this is where I’ll spend my winters.″
But, even if he tried to hide it, it was an emotional time for Leyland. As he drove to the ballpark, his eyes welled with tears as he spotted a huge bust of himself that a neighbor erected on his front lawn.
``It is a sad day,″ Pirates left fielder Al Martin said. ``Jim Leyland means so much to the Pirates, to Pittsburgh and to the fans. Nobody represents Pittsburgh and the Pirates better than Jim Leyland does.″
Clinton also paid tribute to Leyland during a campaign stop in the city earlier in the day.
``I know for many people in the Pittsburgh area, this is a sad day,″ Clinton said. ``Jim Leyland is managing his last home game after 11 seasons and three division championships. ... He worked hard and never tried to grab attention, and I admire him and wish him the best.″