Playing 14 seasons for five different Major League teams, along with two years in Japan in the middle of his career, gave Bill Gullickson a chance to play for a lot of different managers.
That being said, the guy who won 20 games for the Detroit Tigers in 1991 and had double-digit wins in nine of his 14 seasons, has a message for critics of current Tigers’ skipper Jim Leyland.
“If Leyland doesn’t know how to manage, then there’s nobody that knows how to manage,” Gullickson said recently when I interviewed him. “It’s a long year. Guys are going to have slumps and bad days.”
Gullickson, who was a guest of the West Michigan Whitecaps for one of their special “Tiger Friday” promotions, said the Tigers may have been a postseason victim of their own regular-season success the past couple of years.
Being swept in four games in the World Series by the San Francisco Giants last year was a perfect example.
“They had a long layoff (after two rounds of playoffs) and they had to call up guys from the minors to have intersquad games,” Gullickson said. “The other teams (the Giants in 2012 and the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006) were just coming off winning a long series and they had momentum.”
The man has a pretty good track record.
In 1997, Leyland was hired by Wayne Huizenga to manage the Florida Marlins and promptly led them to the franchise’s first championship. In the offseason, however, Huizenga dismantled the team much the same way Pittsburgh did when Leyland was there.
Leyland indeed remained as the manager, but resigned after a terrible 1998 season. At his press conference, Leyland remarked that he thought his job was to win championships, but that apparently wasn’t what Huizenga wanted.
Some would argue it’s a manager’s job to make winners out of losers. Gullickson would argue if players don’t perform, there’s nothing a manager can do to make turn them into winners.
Gullickson played for guys like Dick Williams, Sparky Anderson, Bill Virdon and had no trouble mentioning Leyland in the same breath.
Perhaps Tigers’ fans should start thinking that way as well. Would the Tigers be winning with someone else at the helm? Probably. But right now, Leyland is occupying the manager’s office in Comerica Park. Accept it. And enjoy the games.