If you want to get Jim Leyland grumbling, just ask him about clubhouse chemistry. Like a lot of managers, he’ll tell you its importance is overblown, or at least misrepresented. Mostly, he believes that so-called “chemistry” is an effect rather than a cause.
Knowing that, it was no surprise to hear him Tuesday afternoon dismissing a question about the return of Victor Martinez to the Tigers’ clubhouse this week and what the veteran leader’s absence possibly has meant for the team this season. Because even though Leyland was among those who raved about Martinez and his calming presence last summer, he also was the one who said on the eve of Game 1 of the ALCS last October, “I think the fact he hit .330 has made him a lot better in the clubhouse. It seems to work out that way.”
Martinez tore the ACL in his left knee while working out on his own in Florida in January, sending fans into a brief funk until Mike Ilitch broke the bank to sign Prince Fielder. He visited the team in spring training, but hadn’t been to Detroit since the season started.
That changed Monday, when he was the life of the clubhouse once again, in charge of the music and at the center of most of the laughter and noise. He’s off crutches now, and though he’s still limited by a bulky knee brace, he’s talking hopefully about a return to the lineup in September. He’ll visit his surgeon next week in Colorado, and then await another critical MRI in July.
“It’s always good to see Victor,” Leyland said prior to Tuesday’s game, which the Tigers won in a 9-3 rout of Royals. “I’d rather see him in action right now. But everybody loves Victor; it’s good to see Victor. And if you look at what Victor did for us, it was hit over .300, knock in over 100 runs. And you’re always happy to see guys like that.”
But if you want to make him even happier, don’t ask him if the team is missing V-Mart’s leadership. (My answer: Of course they do. But that’s a crutch Leyland can’t allow his team to use.)
“You guys are way out of line on that clubhouse (angle),” Leyland said. “The leader stuff, don’t get all caught up in that stuff. We love Victor Martinez, Victor Martinez is a wonderful guy, he’s a wonderful teammate. But his contribution here last year, for the most part, was the production he gave us and the way he played and the big hit after big hit that he got.
“People always talk about that stuff. But I’ve said this 1,000 times in my life: I’ve never seen a leader yet that hits .215 or .220. Never in my life have I seen one. Never. Most of the leaders hit .300, hit a bunch of home runs, knock in a bunch of runs, pitch a bunch of great games, win a lot of games. Those are the leaders, believe me. Those are the leaders.”