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Leyland Says Goodbye To Baseball

October 4, 1999

DENVER (AP) _ When Todd Helton sprinted down the third-base line and slid safely into home, Jim Leyland bounded from the dugout to join a mob of jubilant Colorado Rockies.

In their last game of the season Sunday, the Rockies overcame a ninth-inning deficit and rewarded their 54-year-old manager with the 1,067th victory of his career.

The hugs, handshakes and 9-8 victory weren’t quite enough to make Leyland reconsider his decision to walk away from Colorado with two years remaining on his contract.

``I have absolutely no second thoughts whatsoever,″ Leyland said. ``I’m very comfortable with my decision. I know that in the near future, they’re going to have their third manager here, and I want to wish them the best in their selection process. I hope they get the right guy.″

The Rockies thought they had the right guy when they signed Leyland to a three-year, $6 million contract last winter, but the result was the first last-place finish in franchise’s seven-year existence.

Colorado’s 72-90 record was the second-worst since the Rockies joined the National League in 1995. They went 67-95 that season.

``I’m a little embarrassed at the type of year we had,″ Leyland said. ``I don’t really apologize to anybody but the fans. I gave it my best. It just wasn’t good enough, but I do apologize to the fans because they were loyal and they stayed with us throughout the whole time.″

The Giants, who finished 86-76, looked like they would spoil Leyland’s farewell at Coors Field, taking leads of 2-0, 5-2, 7-4 and 8-7. The Rockies came back each time, winning the game on Dante Bichette’s RBI single and Edgard Clemente’s sacrifice fly in the ninth.

Bichette gave a fist pump after his run-scoring hit, and Helton was mobbed near home after he beat Armando Rios’ strong throw from right field.

``We won this one for Jim,″ Bichette said. ``I know it has been a disappointing year, but he’s had a great career. We wanted to send him out with a win.″

Leyland was active throughout the game, pacing in the dugout and jogging out to dispute calls by second base umpire Hunter Wendelstedt in the fifth and first base umpire Steve Rippley in the sixth.

The argument with Wendelstedt was animated, but Leyland went back to the dugout almost immediately after hearing Rippley’s explanation.

``It was one of those games where you’re still managing hard,″ Leyland said. ``You’re trying to win it. I wanted that game real bad. I’m not going to lie about it.″

Before the game, Leyland smiled and shook hands with Giants manager Dusty Baker and all four umpires.

``He just said, `Good luck, man. I’ll miss ya,‴ Baker said. ``I’ll see him down the road. I’m sad for us to lose this game, but you’ve got to be happy for him to win his last game, so it’s a double-edged sword of emotion.″

Leyland, who won a World Series title with the Florida Marlins in 1997, is 1,067-1,127 in 14 years with Pittsburgh, Florida and Colorado. He told his players in September that he lacks the passion required for the daily rigors of managing.

He plans to return to Pittsburgh and has expressed interest in remaining with the Rockies in some capacity.

``It’s tough, but I’m a big boy and I enjoyed it, and it was a great way to go out,″ Leyland said.

Former Detroit manager Buddy Bell reportedly is the early favorite to replace Leyland. Other candidates include New York Yankees third-base coach Willie Randolph and Cleveland hitting coach Charlie Manuel.

Notes: The Giants have not won a season finale under Baker since the strike-shortened 1994 season. ... The Rockies set NL single-season records for total bases (2,696) and extra-base hits (567). The respective records had been held by the 1930 Chicago Cubs and 1930 St. Louis Cardinals. Colorado also had a team-record 1,644 hits, the most in the NL since Philadelphia in 1930. ... San Francisco OF Marvin Benard scored 100 runs for the first time in his career and finished the season with seven straight hits. ... Bichette recorded his 1,000th career RBI.

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