PITTSBURGH — In the 1920s, Miller Huggins managed Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
For the most part, though, a manager isn’t blessed with managing the two greatest hitters of a generation.
Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial and Ted Williams played under different managers. Hank Aaron and Pete Rose and George Brett and Rod Carew, too.
Jim Leyland understands that he, though, has been blessed just as Huggins was for he and he alone has managed the two greatest hitters of his generation — Barry Bonds and Miguel Cabrera.
Leyland managed Bonds at the start of his career and saw him grow into his greatness naturally in the PED days, when he developed into a home run threat but before he became the greatest home run hitter the game ever saw.
Cabrera joined Leyland, on the other hand, just as he was blossoming into the game’s most dangerous hitter, having spent five seasons with Florida before joining the Tigers.
Each helped carry Leyland into what would seem to be a Hall of Fame career as a manager.
“There’s no question they are two of the all-time greats,” Leyland admitted.
The record book lays that out in no uncertain terms.
Player Yrs. Avg. AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI
Cabrera 11 .320 5,872 1,004 1,879 399 14 336 1,182
Bonds 22 .298 9,847 2,227 2,935 601 77 762 1,996
Under Leyland, Cabrera was the more productive hitter, but he was in the heart of is career at ages 25-30 while Bonds was learning his way through the big leagues from 21-27.
TOTALS UNDER LEYLAND
Player Yrs. Avg. AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI
Cabrera 6 .326 3,178 555 1,037 216 4 198 659
Bonds 7 .275 3,585 672 984 220 36 179 356
So how does Leyland compare the two?
“Bonds was a different type athlete than Cabrera. They’re just different. I don’t know if you can compare them,” Leyland said, noting that Bonds was an all-around player, a base stealer, maybe the best defensive left-fielder of all-time.
“One was left-handed, one was right-handed, Bonds was more of a pull hitter than Cabrera.”
But there was one thing the two had very much in common.
“You just try to keep those guys going,” Leyland said. “The best part of both those guys is they wanted to be in there every day. They were smart enough to know you put numbers up by playing.
Bonds played every day and played hard, Cabrera played every day and played hard.
There are those who believe that Bonds was a difficult guy to have on the team, especially in his early days. That goes back mostly to a spring training run-in Bonds had first with public relations man Jim Lachima, who was trying to keep Bonds’ personal photographer off the field, then with coach Bill Virdon and finally with Leyland.
This run-in came before the news cameras and got a great deal of play throughout Bonds’ career, but Leyland maintains it was a spur of the moment incident that neither lingered nor was typical of dealing with Bonds.
“There’s not much maintenance there with either of them, even with Bonds. He might have been into it with somebody else. Maybe the media didn’t take to him as much as they should have,” Leyland said.
“Bonds couldn’t keep anything inside. He pissed some people off along the way, but that’s OK. From a manager’s standpoint neither he nor Cabrera was a problem to manage. How can you find a problem when they played every day and they played hard for you?
“I enjoyed Bonds ... I had a great relationship with him. I didn’t care what anyone else felt about him. That was his fight to fight. I really liked him and do to this day.”
Cabrera, Leyland said, was different in that he keeps things in.
“Cabrera doesn’t say much. He probably doesn’t get as much attention as he should get. Maybe it’s a communication thing, but he is a tremendous kid,” Leyland said.
Besides, what else is there to say when the man puts together a Triple Crown season and this year may be having an even bigger year?
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel