Dave Dombrowski has found his man. The Detroit Tigers introduced Brad Ausmus as their new manager yesterday. The 44-year-old former catcher will replace Jim Leyland at the helm of one of baseball’s biggest title contenders over the last few seasons.
The pick continues a trend in the MLB of clubs hiring first timers to head their lineups, guys with zero Major League managerial experience. The Tigers took it one step further, as Ausmus has no minor league managerial experience either. He did manage Team Isreal in the most recent World Baseball Classic competition.
There will be no honeymoon period, as is often the case for new managers. Expectations will be sky high for Ausmus’ first season, and he will be expected to hit the ground running where Leyland left off. Detroit will enter 2014 as the three-time defending AL Central division champion.
The Tigers also interviewed Padres bench coach Rick Renteria, Los Angeles Dodgers third-base coach Tim Wallach, and Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon. Detroit also had planned to interview former Cincinnati Reds star Barry Larkin, but Larkin decided not to interview because he wasn’t in a position to make the time commitment necessary for the job.
The Detroit front office originally indicated they preferred to find a manager who had some certain level of experience, and all of the other candidates they interviewed outclassed Ausmus in that regard. But Dombrowski said Ausmus was so impressive during interviews, that Dombrowski knew immediately he had found his guy.
So what are Ausmus’ qualifications for the job?
He played in the Majors from 1993-2010 – in case you’re counting, yes, that means he was playing just three years ago. Since that time Ausmus has worked as special assistant to the front office of the San Diego Padres organization. But his recent playing experience makes him far less removed from the culture and environment that surrounds the game today, which might make it easier for him to connect to players and for players to relate to him than it would be with an older manager.
Ausmus spent 18 seasons as a catcher, dealing with the fragile egos of pitchers while calling games behind the dish and managing situationals as the captain on the field. Teammates have praised him for his baseball intellect and communication skills (the fact that he’s Ivy League educated doesn’t hurt).
But even with these qualities, entrusting a win-now team to a first-time manager is taking a pretty significant risk. Especially when that risk is taken on a guy like Ausmus who has not followed the natural career trajectory of minor league manager, to Major League coaching staff, to manager.
But baseball is a game where often the best decisions are those made by the gut. Dombrowski’s screamed that Ausmus was perfect for the job. At the press conference, superlatives like “brilliant” and “exceptional” were continuously thrown about.
I believe Ausmus will be a good manager. In the end, players play. The manager’s job is to simply put those players in the best position to perform, and to motivate them to perform to their highest potential. That’s something a guy with Ausmus’ experience and credentials should be able to figure out. Only with Detroit, the learning curve will have to be short. With the talent already assembled there, anything less than a World Series will be a disappointment.