Jim Leyland was many things over the course of five decades in baseball. All of them were unforgettable.
He was a winner, with a World Series championship, division titles with teams in the American and National Leagues, and 1,769 Major League victories under his managerial belt. He was a character, an outwardly gruff, mustachioed old-school skipper who left a trail of cigarette smoke from dugout to clubhouse. And he was simply a gem of the sport, a man who was and remains universally cherished throughout the game.
Leyland retired from baseball after the 2013 season, but his legacy lives on, and MLB Network has honored the man and the people around the sport who love him in its latest episode of MLB Network Presents, a one-hour documentary titled "Jim Leyland: A Life in Baseball."
The program premiered on Tuesday on MLB Network and not only thrilled Leyland fans but whetted the appetites of baseball fans getting ready to cheer Team USA in the upcoming World Baseball Classic, for which Leyland will dust off his spikes and return to the dugout as the club's manager.
"Jim Leyland: A Life in Baseball" spans Leyland's career and is based around a lengthy interview with MLB Network's Bob Costas filmed this month at Leyland's home in Pittsburgh. Also featured are seven-time NL MVP Barry Bonds, who rarely grants interviews; former players Bobby Bonilla, Sean Casey, Gary Sheffield and Andy Van Slyke; fellow managers Tony La Russa and Gene Lamont; general manager Dave Dombrowski; and coach Rich Donnelly.
"Everything is easy when your subject is a guy like this," MLB Network segment producer Tony Ferraiolo said. "Once we got a hold of [Leyland's former players], every one of them said, 'Yes. When do you need me?' Jim might have been the toughest interview to line up, because as he always said, 'It's about the players, not me.' That's the type of guy he is."
And that comes through in every minute of this program. Bonds recalled the very necessary tough-love scolding he got from Leyland after a prima donna moment in Spring Training in the early 1990s while Leyland was in his first big league managing stint.
Former All-Star first baseman and MLB Network on-air personality Casey, who played for Leyland in Detroit, recalled the skipper's uncanny ability to connect with every player on the roster. Former Pirates outfielder Van Slyke spoke of Leyland's unflinching toughness and commitment to do his job the right way.
"Jim Leyland was always honest," Van Slyke said in the film. "And if he hurt your feelings in the process of telling you something honest, he didn't care, because he thought it was in your best interest."
Leyland told the story of growing up in a big family and how that helped shape his future style as a leader of men.
"The different types of personalities, the players coming from all different walks of life, it made me aware of what it takes to get the best out of that individual," Leyland said in the program.
The documentary is also packed with another signature Leyland trait: unapologetic emotion. This was a guy, after all, who spent 30 years enduring Minor League bus rides before he walked off a Miami field as the winning manager in the World Series with the Marlins in 1997.
"When you go into these shows, you hope you find two or three good stories to work off of," MLB Network coordinating producer Jed Tuminaro said. "This whole show was anecdote-driven. So much of it is in there."
So don't be surprised if you see a few tears being shed while some of baseball's best and brightest wax poetic about the lasting genius of Jim Leyland. This program is quite literally a labor of love, and it shines through in every frame.
"There's not a coach or a player that cares more about his players than Jim Leyland," Sheffield said in the film. "And that's what brings the emotions, because he knows you're capable of doing certain things, and he pushes you to a limit that sometimes you don't even think you can go to."
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.