Jim Souhan: Leyland calls Gardenhire as good as it gets

  • Article by: Jim Souhan
  • Star Tribune
  • July 18, 2007 - 12:09 AM

To get to the visiting clubhouse in the Metrodome, you take the stairs up from the field, turn left through the blue doors, and pull a U-turn at 1945.

The manager's office is a small desk shoved against the far wall of the coaches' dressing room, which is filled with wire lockers and features names written in magic marker on erasable nameplates.

In the lavish new world of major league baseball, this could be considered an affront to the dignity of the position. Yet Tigers manager Jim Leyland looks as comfortable here as a football player in a jail cell.

The visiting manager's office is old school. On this day, the visiting manager looks straight out of the Old Testament.

Tuesday afternoon, Leyland pulled his uniform pants legs up to reveal a generous swath of stirrup sock and propped his feet up on a coach's chair.

He punctuated his sentences with words most often found in graffiti, used a red plastic lighter to ignite a Marlboro, and blew lots of smoke, some of it aimed in the direction of Twins manager Ron Gardenhire.

"I think he's the best manager in the league," Leyland said, without prompting.

Gardenhire was asked if he has taught Leyland anything. "I taught him to say that," Gardenhire said.

Leyland managed the American League team at the All-Star Game last week. This made Gardenhire, for the first time in his managerial career, the calm voice in his dugout.

"I think he's very bright, I think he runs a good game, he obviously handles players well, he's tough if he has to be, he's a great human being, he's got all the right combinations," Leyland said. "I sincerely believe he's the best manager in the league. Now, I certainly don't want to [anger] anybody ... But I really think he's good. I think he's outstanding. I like him."

Continued Leyland: "I'm quite a bit older, I guess, but we could be buddies. I could play golf with him two times a week and go out to dinner with him."

Gardenhire might be better off without the secondhand smoke.

Leyland was echoing frequent compliments offered to Gardenhire by White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, and all of this managerial affection is understandable.

The quality of managing in the AL Central is a sign of the division's rise to prominence. Guillen is the only White Sox manager to win a World Series in 90 years. Leyland has taken teams from both leagues to the Series. Gardenhire has won four division titles in five years. Cleveland's Eric Wedge just received a contract extension.

"All managers are teammates," Leyland said. "It's a fraternity."

After the Twins' 1-0 loss to the Tigers on Tuesday night, Gardenhire walked through the clubhouse, already encouraging players to be ready to play tonight. Pitcher Johan Santana walked by his office, and Gardenhire asked, "You ready?" Santana nodded and smiled.

Gardenhire refused to take Leyland's compliment seriously. He named Leyland, Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre as managers deserving of such praise.

Gardenhire said working alongside Leyland at the All-Star Game was intense, and sometimes comical. When Seattle closer J.J. Putz floundered in the ninth inning, Leyland looked down the bench and screamed, "Get that other [guy] up," except he didn't say "guy." He was referring to Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez.

Earlier Tuesday, cigarette in hand, Leyland offered this prediction: "There's no doubt in my mind that at some point, I hope not in the next couple of years, because I'll be here, that he'll manage in that game."

The manager of the All-Star Game, of course, is the manager who took his team to the previous World Series.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. •

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