Imagine how cool it would be to manage a big league team in a glamorous city populated by Northeasterners and Hispanics, two groups of people known for their passion for baseball.
And how amazing would it be as an actor to play the CIA Counterpart to 007 in the James Bond movies?
Those two jobs seem super glamorous, don’t they?
And yet being the manager of the Marlins (Miami or Florida) or playing the part of CIA agent Felix Leiter has shockingly little job security and most people forget the parade of people who had the position.
The Marlins play in Miami where, from time to time, they attract big name talent and high priced free agents. And along the way, the team has won as many World Series since their first year in 1993 as the Cubs, Phillies, Mets and Indians have in their entire existence.
But no star sticks around, players get dumped away and the manager tends to leave with a chip on their shoulder and brighter days ahead.
Likewise, Felix Leiter should be a fan favorite character. He is the American answer to James Bond. What could be cooler than that? He shows up in multiple Bond films, sometimes taking part in the climactic battle along side 007. Did you remember Diamonds Are Forever ended when Felix Leiter showed up with a fleet of helicopters opening fire on Bond nemesis Blofeld? I bet you didn’t.
Many of the beloved 007 characters were consistently played by the same actor over the years, even when Bond himself switched stars. Bernard Lee and later Robert Brown and Judi Dench played M from 1962’s Dr. No through 2012’s Skyfall. Desmond Llewelyn was Q from Sean Connery to Pierce Brosnan. Lois Maxwell was the perfect Miss Moneypenny for a quarter of a century.
But Felix Leiter? He changed from movie to movie. In nine official Bond films and two unofficial ones, nine different men played the role. Sean Connery alone acted opposite five actors playing the role, and none of them bore any physical resemblance to the other. They were not even all the same race nor age range.
It is as if a casting breakdown went out to agents that said “We are looking for a male actor. Must not be dead. We are open minded to any other physical qualities.”
So the Marlins manager gig and playing Felix Leiter never turns out to be the windfall it could be. And upon closer examination, the managers and the various Leiters have even further similarities.
This being Sully Baseball, I can not let an observation like that come and go without breaking it down with more detail. So here is how each full time Marlins manager corresponds with a portrayal of CIA Agent Felix Leiter.
And mind you this is NOT in chronological order nor in alphabetical order. This is from BEST Marlins Manager and Felix Leiter Performance to WORST Marlins Manager and Felix Leiter Performance.
Jim Leyland – Jack Lord (Dr. No)
Both Jim Leyland and Jack Lord did their jobs as well and as memorably as anyone else. And both probably smoked a lot in the process.
Leyland arrived in 1997 after his success with the Pirates and immediately turned the team around. Most people’s first memories of the Marlins was their improbable rise to the post season and then dispatching the Giants, Braves and Indians to win a startling Championship. Leyland brought a cool intensity to the Marlins and he could he could hold his own with anyone that year.
And remember, Leyland had a Leiter on his team… AL Leiter.
From his first appearance in the airport in Dr. No, Lord was perfect. In fact without knowing if Leiter was good or bad at first, he seemed like a threat to Bond and at one point pulled a gun on 007 who then surrendered. When it is revealed that he is a CIA ally, he becomes Bond’s trusted accomplice. Lord was handsome, tough, cool and even could exchange barbs with Connery’s Bond. He truly did seem like Bond’s American equal.
Leyland’s time with the Marlins was cut short over money and the direction of the team. After the 1997 title, the Marlins front office dismantled the team in the same manner that the Pirates wrecked Leyland’s great squad from the early 1990’s. Not wanting to sit through another rebuilding, Leyland left after the 1998 season to manage Colorado. Later he found success, two more pennants and possibly a trip to Cooperstown in Detroit. But it would have been cool to see if he could have continued his run of success in Florida.
Likewise, Lord was disappointed to see that Leiter’s role was not going to be larger in Goldfinger. He wanted a bigger part and better billing and the impasse led to him leaving the series after just one movie. Later he would become a TV star playing Steve McGarrett in the original Hawaii Five-O.
Not having more Connery/Lord Bond films was our loss.
Jack McKeon – David Hedison (Live and Let Die & License to Kill)
While not as well known as Leyland nor Lord, McKeon and Hedison filled the roles as well or maybe even better.
Cigar chomping “Trader Jack” McKeon had managed in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s (winning the 1999 NL Manager of the year) before he took over a stumbling Florida franchise in 2003. That year they did not have big budgeted stars like Gary Sheffield and Kevin Brown. They did have one new famous face, Ivan Rodriguez, and some ability. They also had some young blood the rejuvenated the Marlins hopes.
The team took off under McKeon and sored to heights not seen since Leyland was in the dugout. Florida won a dramatic playoff against the Giants and a curse filled NLCS against the Cubs. Then in the World Series, they stunned the mighty Yankees and the once dead franchise was alive.
They put up some more winning seasons before McKeon retired after the 2005 season. In 2011, with the franchise sputtering, he came back. But he was 80 years old at the time and clearly too old and his second time around ended without much of an impact.
When the James Bond franchise was floundering and needing new life, Roger Moore, star of The Saint, was brought in to star in Live and Let Die. The rest of the cast carried over from the Connery films (and single Lazenby film) except for the role of Leiter, which went to Hedison.
David Hedison was the well known star on the show Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. He was friends with Roger Moore in real life and they had nice chemistry on screen together. Hedison looked around the same age as Moore and had a handsome cool quality that made it possible to believe that he was indeed the Bond of the CIA.
1973’s Live and Let Die was a monster hit and gave the franchise longevity. Oddly, the character of Leiter did not return in any of the subsequent Moore films. (He was written out of A View to a Kill.) Hedison went on to a steady career on television and in soaps.
Like McKeon, he reprised his role much later. 16 years after Live and Let Die, Hedison replaced another Leiter to play the part opposite Timothy Dalton in 1989’s License to Kill. Unlike previous Bond films, Felix Leiter played a critical role in the actual plot instead of simply helping 007 along in the adventure.
Felix gets married in the opening tease that includes Hedison participating in several action scenes. But later, a drug cartel murders his wife and mutilates Leiter by feeding his legs to a shark. It is a brutally violent sequence for the Bond films.
Dalton’s Bond spends the rest of the film avenging his friend and his slain wife. Oddly at the end, Leiter does not seem so broken up by his wife’s death when he thanks James Bond for his help.
While Hedison does a fine job bringing some weight to Leiter, like McKeon he was too old for the part. Hedison was a handsome man in his 60’s, but he was nearly 20 years older than Timothy Dalton. Leiter is supposed to be Bonds’ counterpart, not mentor. He would not return to the series, legs or no legs.
Joe Girardi – Jeffrey Wright (Casino Royale & Quantum of Solace)
Both Giardi and Wright were incredibly respected and sought after for their talents, which were wasted in these roles.
Joe Girardi caught in the post season with the Cubs and the Rockies before being a World Series hero with the New York Yankees. After his retirement in 2003, he returned to the Yankees first as a broadcaster and then as a coach. He was considered to be one of the top managerial prospects in baseball and was rumored to be up for many jobs.
Jeffrey Wright was a Tony Award winning Broadway star who was starting to make his name in movies. He received acclaim for playing the title role in Basquiat and as Martin Luther King in Boycott. After winning an Emmy for reprising his stage role in Angels in America, Wright was courted by many producers to bring his abilities and gravitas to their films.
Girardi took over a talented Florida Marlins squad in 2006, only to see it be dismantled. He was left with a shell of a team and a bad relationship with the front office. He kept the team with a payroll under $20 million in Wild Card contention for much of the season, enough to earn him National League Manager of the Year honors. However the Marlins squandered their chances with Girardi, who left after 2006 and later guided the Yankees to the 2009 World Championship.
When 007 was given a full makeover with 2006’s Casino Royale, Wright was cast opposite Daniel Craig’s new gritty James Bond. Do you remember Wright? I bet you don’t. He did most of his acting silently stewing over a poker table, playing with chips. He has a few scenes with Bond, but he was reduced to being simply a face in a very dense crowd.
He reprised the role in the dreadful follow up, 2008’s Quantum of Solace. Amazingly Wright was given even less to do in that film. He sulks in an airplane and drinks at a party and tells James some exposition. But the most talented actor ever to play the role, who did so opposite one of the best Bonds ever, was totally squandered in a part not worthy of Rosencrantz nor Guildenstern. He did not appear in 2012’s SkyFall.
Wright continues to be a reliable actor but few will remember his turn as Leiter. He and Hedison were the only actors to play the role more than once.
Fredi Gonzalez – Rik Van Nutter (Thunderball)
Both Fredi Gonzalez and Rik Van Nutter did better in their roles than anyone could have imagined. And for no good reason, they were not given another chance.
In the wake of the Joe Girardi – 2006 Marlins payroll fiasco, Florida tapped one time Braves coach Fredi Gonzalez to manage the team. The team had a microscopic budget in 2007 and they stumbled to a 91 loss season. That off season, they traded away future MVP Miguel Cabrera in one of the worst moves in recent baseball history.
Stripped of even more talent and devoid of any expectations, Gonzalez responded with his finest managerial achievement. The team went 84-77 despite having the lowest payroll in the game. They finished just 5 1/2 games out of the post season with a team that featured very few big league players. In 2009 they were even better, winning 87 games, missing the playoffs by just 5 games.
But not even halfway through the 2010 season, the Marlins front office dismissed him, much to the amazement of anyone in the baseball world. The Braves quickly snatched him up where he has had the Braves contending in each of his first three seasons including a Division Title in 2013.
There was no reason to think Rik Van Nutter was going to make any impression when he became the third Leiter. He was a lightweight actor, best known if at all as the husband to actress and sex symbol Anita Ekberg.
But he found a nice balance in 1965’s Thunderball. He was not Bond’s equal, like Jack Lord. But he did possess a certain coolness that was distinctly American. He was handsome but in a different way than Connery. He had the sandy hair and looked like he could have been a surfer. And in the process of the movie wears some bizarre pattern shirts that he manages to pull off.
He also is pretty active in the movie. Van Nutter’s Leiter is present when Q is briefing Bond with his gadgets. Later he saves 007 by helicopter in time to set up the main battle. With a few more films and chemistry built up with Connery, Van Nutter could have evolved the role into a memorable part along side M, Moneypenny, Q and the other Bond regulars.
Thunderball was a blockbuster. Adjusted for inflation, it is the biggest James Bond film of all time. But like Gonzalez with the Marlins, Van Nutter did not return. It would be his only Bond film and he would be sentence to spend the next decade or so in a bed with Anita Ekberg.
Ozzie Guillen – Bernie Casey (Never Say Never Again)
In theory, Guillen managing the Marlins and Casey playing Leiter opposite Sean Connery both sound amazing. In practice, they were tremendous letdowns and should be forgotten.
Ozzie Guillen was the flamboyant and intense shortstop of the Chicago White Sox in the 1980’s and 1990’s. He was a coach under Jack McKeon when the Marlins won the 2003 title and then returned to the South Side of Chicago to manage the team he played with. Combative and opinionated, he didn’t mind being the center of attention. And in 2005, that personality would help drive the White Sox to their first World Series title since 1917.
After another Division Title in 2008, Guillen clashed with the front office over and over again. He left the team at the end of the 2011 season and landed with the Marlins the next year. With a brand new stadium, new stars like Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle and deep pockets, Guillen looked like he was going to be managing a dream team.
Instead it became a nightmare. The only thing memorable about the year was Ozzie’s pro Castro comments that did not sit well with Miami’s Cuban fan base. Before the year was over, Guillen probably wanted to be swimming to Cuba or anywhere that wasn’t Miami. The listless Marlins fell out of contention, started trading away players in July and Guillen was fired by the end of the year.
In 1983, Sean Connery returned to the role of Bond in the unofficial entry to the series, Never Say Never Again. After years of wanting to see him back in action, he was returning under the direction of Empire Strikes Back helmer Irvin Kershner. Former All Pro football player Bernie Casey was cast as Leiter.
After starring for the 49ers and Rams in the 1960’s, Casey became a reliable television actor and appeared in movies such as Sharkey’s Machine. The idea of an African American Felix Leiter was cool. One who had Leiter’s physicality and toughness made it even better.
The film was a shocking bore. Connery looked tired and basically went through the motions. The plot was nothing more than a dull remake of Thunderball and while Casey participated in some action scenes, he never was able to have a breakout memorable scene.
You know a film does not work when the performances can not make you forget Rik Van Nutter.
Casey went on to play more memorable parts in Revenge of the Nerds, Spies Like Us and I’m Gonna Git You Sucka. Sadly his chance to be the right hand man to Sean Connery’s James Bond is not worth revisiting.
Rene Lachemann – Cec Linder (Goldfinger)
Neither Lachemann nor Linder are remembered by many fans, but both participated in a critical part for either the Marlins or James Bond.
A baseball lifer, Lachemann was a minor league player and manager for decades before being named the Seattle Mariners manager in 1981. Later he would serve as the Brewers manager before joining the World Series coaching staff of the 1986 Red Sox and 1989 Oakland A’s. Well respected and admired, he was part of a baseball family that included his brother Marcel, who would become the manager of the Angels.
In 1993, Lachemann managed the Florida Marlins in their first season. He was no young kid anymore and maybe a younger manager is what the expansion franchise needed. But their first years were under his watch and some of the players who would win the World Series in 1997 played under him.
Cec (short for Cecil) Linder was a reliable TV and film actor throughout the 1950’s, playing character parts and even appearing in Stanley Kubrick’s film version of Lolita.
In 1964, he appeared in Goldfinger as Leiter. While he gives a fine performance and verbally spars with Connery, Linder is astonishingly miscast. Remember this is the first appearance of Leiter since Jack Lord’s calm and smooth portrayal in Dr. No. A decision seemed to be made to turn Leiter from Bond’s equal to his uncle. One can only imagine what a Lord (or Van Nutter) performance could have been like in the movie.
That being said, Goldfinger is probably the best film in the series. So even though Linder did not fit the role based upon expectations, he also didn’t ruin the movie either.
Edwin Rodriguez – Norman Burton (Diamonds are Forever)
Both Edwin Rodriguez and Norman Burton took over for effective predecessors only to have mixed and forgotten results themselves.
Rodriguez replaced Gonzalez when he was surprisingly (and needlessly) fired during the 2010 season. The career minor league manager did not embarrass himself, bringing the bargain basement Marlins to the verge of a .500 record. But in 2011, he could not spark the team and they were in last place and he was sparring with the front office when he left. He was in an impossible situation and maybe in over his head. He remains a minor league manager, currently piloting the team in Akron.
Norman Burton was the new Felix Leiter in the 1971 Bond film Diamonds Are Forever. Another reliable television actor, he was 180 degrees from Van Nutter, who had preceded him in Thunderball. Instead of being a cool American, Burton portrayed Leiter as an overweight, flustered bureaucrat. Far from being Bond’s equal. He was now someone who looked like he belonged behind a desk.
The material itself was flat as Connery’s return after a one film hiatus was a let down. But Burton, like Rodriguez, looked in over his head with the part. When he draws his guns or brings in the helicopters at the end of the film, he never added anything memorable to the role. It became a mystery why they kept the same name for the character if he was going to change so drastically between films.
Mike Redmond – John Terry (The Living Daylights)
Two young and enthusiastic men took on their roles and the result was utterly forgettable.
In the wake of the Ozzie Guillen disaster, the Marlins went on a youth movement that included first time manager Mike Redmond. A reserve catcher for the 2003 World Champion Marlins, Redmond worked his way up the minor leagues to become a skipper. He was the Midwest League Manager of the Year in 2011. In 2013, he took over the Marlins with blind optimism.
With Jose Fernandez and little else on the team, the Marlins sputtered to a 100 loss season that, save for a season ending no hitter by Henderson Alvarez, was forgotten by everyone. He has ability, so maybe good things lay ahead. But for now, there is little to note.
The James Bond series also went through rebuilding. In the mid 1980s, the cast was revamped (save for M and Q) with a new younger cast. Timothy Dalton was the new Bond and the series was going to go back to its spy roots. Felix Leiter would be returning in the form of John Terry.
Blink and you will miss Leiter in 1987’s The Living Daylights. He chews Bond out on a boat for interfering with CIA plans and later gives him instructions via a headset. I am sure you do not remember him. I would doubt that Terry remembers himself in the film. All I remember is he wore a blue wind breaker and did not join James in any of the action.
It is a shame because despite Terry’s wooden and instantly forgotten performance, he is an actor who showed his ability elsewhere. He would have a featured role in Full Metal Jacket and would later play Christian Shepherd in Lost. He was replaced by Hedison in the second and final Dalton film, License to Kill.
Jeff Torborg – Joe Don Baker (GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies)
OK, this is a little bit of a cheat because Baker did not TECHNICALLY play Leiter. But he did play Bond’s CIA counterpart in GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies. And the analogy between him and Torborg will make more sense, trust me.
Torborg was a veteran manager going back to the late 1970’s when he was helming the Expos in 2001. In a bizarre shifting of organizations, the owner of the Marlins bought the Red Sox and Jeffrey Loria, owner of the Expos, bought the Marlins (with MLB running the Expos) starting in 2002. Along the way, the manager and coaches of the Expos simply moved to Miami.
In his year and a half in Florida, he didn’t seem to fit and looked a bit old and tired (even for Floridians.) He seemed less like the leader of the Marlins and more like an organization man and friend of the owner. When he was let go, Jack McKeon took over and the team won the World Series.
Likewise, Baker seemed tacked on to the plots of 1995’s GoldenEye and 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies. Rebooted with Pierce Brosnan, Baker’s Leiter Proxy, “Jack Wade”, was a loud mouth American right down to a Hawaiian shirt and referring to 007 as “Jimmy.” Far from being Bond’s equal, he is now just a tired agent going through the motions and cashing a check.
And like Torborg, he seemed oddly out of place. Baker had already played a memorable Bond character: the mad arms deal Whitaker in The Living Daylights.
Believe it or not his CIA counterpart left us nostalgic for Baker in Mitchell.
John Boles – Michael Pate (Original TV Production of Casino Royale)
Do John Boles and Michael Pate belong in this discussion? Technically yes, although they both seem out of place.
John Boles became the manager of the Marlins despite never having played professional baseball.
He was an executive in the Marlins front office who took over as interim manager in 1996 and then replaced Jim Leyland after he resigned before the 1999 season. He never had a winning season and some players openly questioned why they should play for a manager who never was a player himself. He was fired in 2001 and resumed his front office career.
Michael Pate played Leiter in the original made for TV “Climax Mystery Theater” production of Casino Royale. His Leiter was a British agent against Barry Nelson’s American “Jimmy Bond.” His main role in the show was to teach Bond (and the audience) how to play baccarat against the villain, played by the always amazing Peter Lorre.
Boles never played big league ball and Pate never was in a real Bond movie. They are cut from the same cloth in my mind and belong together.
Now to be fair, I realize that I am not including interim managers Cookie Rojas, Brandon Hyde and Tony Perez in this analogy. I essentially ran out of Felix Leiters. If they had used a few more, maybe more than one during the Roger Moore years, I’d be able to assign a Leiter to those three as well.
But then again, I’ve already written more than 4,000 words on this topic, so if you wanted this to be MORE in depth, that is a YOU problem.
So there you have it. Someday someone will make the most out of the Marlins managerial position and another actor will claim Felix Leiter as their own. As for now, at least we have this shaken and not stirred blog post.
Bond Photos: EON Productions, DANJAQ Productions, Warner Bros. Pictures
Baseball Photos: AP, Kevin C. Cox/WireImage.com,Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images, Kim Klement/US Presswire, Simon Barnett/Getty Images, Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images North America, Steve Mitchell, USA TODAY Sports, Getty Images