Brad Ausmus changes the plan for Dombrowski
This was Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski two weeks ago, at the Jim Leyland press conference, talking about the recent trend around baseball towards new managers:
“There’s been a new sort of trend in recent years where there’s been some guys that have not managed that have come in and managed. So I can’t say that I would eliminate that because I think it’s very important that you look at each and every case and get the best person possible. Is it likely the person has managerial experience to some extent? Yes. Is it for sure? I don’t know that at this point.”
Along the same lines, here’s another quote from Dombrowski that day on the win-now imperative the new manager would face:
“Whoever steps in here has to be able to manage a club that has a chance to win right now and handle some very good, established Major League players. So you’re not looking for somebody, where you’ve involved in a club like I’ve been in the past that’s an expansion team, and you let them grow in that area. This club is built to try to win, so the person that we’re going to hire will be the person that we think gives us the best chance. I have always been a strong advocate of having managerial experience, because I think that there’s some things that you learn, not necessarily always at the Major League level, but I think it’s important, because those are tough shoes to fill and there’s a lot that’s involved in it. So I think it’s very important that that person know how to deal with as many issues as they possibly can.”
Taken in that context, you can make the case that Brad Ausmus won the Tigers over.
Unofficially, Ausmus actually did manage a Major League game. It was at the end of the 2009 regular season, a day after the Dodgers had wrapped up the National League West, and Joe Torre went with a tradition of letting a player manage the final game. Ausmus was Torre’s pick, and the 40-year-old catcher led the Dodgers to a 5-3 win at Colorado. He also entered the game as a pinch-runner for Jim Thome.
Add in his experience leading Team Israel in the qualifiers for the most recent World Baseball Classic, and that is Ausmus’ resume as a manager. Those who know him, however, seem to consistently rave about his qualities to be a great manager.
“He’s an amazingly deceptive guy in that you can take him for granted, but he has so much game prep, camaraderie, pitching wealth,” said an AL executive who knew Ausmus from his playing days. “Just a great understanding how the game should be played.”
Dombrowski was somebody who didn’t know Ausmus well. Ausmus came and went during Randy Smith’s time as Tigers general manager, and Smith has praised his managerial qualities.
“I’m as confident in him as I was when I hired [Bruce] Bochy,” Smith told CBSSports.com’s Danny Knobler, referring to hiring Bochy with the Padres in the 1990s.
Bochy had four seasons managing in the minor leagues and two years as the Padres third-base coach before Smith hired him. Ausmus, who was a 26-year-old catcher on Bochy’s first team with the Padres in 1995, has three years as a special assistant in baseball operations, but 18 years as a Major League catcher.
The bigger difference, though, might be the team. The Padres were still rebuilding after losing Fred McGriff, Gary Sheffield and Derek Bell over the previous two seasons. Bochy led the Padres to a division title in his second season. In the case of the Tigers, one can make the argument that this roster has two seasons to contend for a World Series title before the next round of tinkering arrives.
Ausmus doesn’t necessarily change the Tigers’ mindset. He played in an era when specialized statistics blossomed in baseball, including for managerial tendencies, but reportedly isn’t tied to them. With an experienced bench coach (Gene Lamont, perhaps, though that doesn’t seem to be set yet), he can blend two different schools of thought.
What it changes is the voice and the image at the top. Dombrowski doesn’t just hire managers, he hires a public face and voice of the organization. Alan Trammell was 44 years old when Dombrowski hired him, but he seemingly aged a few years at a time as he became the face of the Tigers’ rebuilding struggles a decade ago. His first club was a collection of youngsters and journeymen.
Ausmus inherits not only a veteran-laden roster, but a superstar-loaded one. If he gets guys like Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter to buy into the program, even if he has to earn their respect at first, his transition might well be easy. If 2014 becomes a learning year, the job gets harder. Dombrowski knows this, but what he saw and heard from Ausmus in the interview apparently won him over.