Brad Ausmus has been named the next Tigers manager following the retirement of Jim Leyland. This will be his first job as a major league manager. In fact, it is his first time taking on any coaching role in either the minor or major leagues since he retired from playing in 2010.
Ausmus has had a number of opportunities to interview for a managerial job the past couple of years. He was a top candidate for the Red Sox job after 2012, before Boston made a trade with the Blue Jays to acquire John Farrell. Ausmus had seemingly interviewed for nearly every vacant managerial position in the MLB this offseason.
He did turn down an interview request from the Marlins last year, indicating he wasn't willing to settle for a position on just any team. He also withdrew his name from consideration with the Astros after his interview. That should sound good for Tigers fans; it helps show Ausmus truly wants to be in Detroit and felt he could mesh with team management.
Though he has been one of the hottest managerial prospects in the majors, Ausmus has very little experience actually managing or coaching a team. The only time he has held such a position was during the 2013 World Baseball Classic when he managed the Israeli national team. Israel failed to advance from the qualifying round despite losing just one game. Israel beat South Africa and Spain in the quarterfinal and semifinal of Qualifier 1, then lost to Spain in the final. Under WBC rules, that meant Israel was eliminated from qualification with Spain advancing.
Ausmus had to work with minor league players during Israel's games as qualifying took place in September while the MLB was still in play. Had qualifications been a month later, players such as Kevin Youkilis, Ryan Braun and Ian Kinsler could have been on the team. Ausmus showed a willingness to pull a pitcher early if he struggles, taking out Eric Berger after three innings in the team's 9-7 loss to Spain. Throughout the team's three games, Ausmus showed an aversion to bunting as the team did not lay down a sacrifice once.
In a 2010 interview with MLB.com, Ausmus talked about why he did not feel minor league managing experience was necessary to take on a big-league role:
"In the minor leagues, a lot of the decision-making is out of the manager’s hands. The organization wants certain guys to play. They dictate at-bats, innings pitched, pitch counts. Development is the top order in the minor leagues, whereas winning is the most important in the major leagues. Coaching in the major leagues — third base, pitching coach, hitting coach and just being around the manager in the dugout as part of the process — might be the more prudent way to prepare for major league managing. The last two years, being a part-time player behind [Russell Martin] — which is the extreme of being a backup catcher — allowed me to be on the bench and watch [Joe Torre] and to ask questions of [bench coach] Bob Schaefer or Donnie [Mattingly] or Larry Bowa and to learn more about the game."
Ausmus also acted as a player-manager for one game apiece in 2009 and 2010 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, notching a 1-1 record. Those were the last two years of a lengthy playing career that saw Ausmus become one of the most respected defensive catchers in the history of baseball. He spent 18 years as a backstop, first with the Padres, then the two stints apiece with the Tigers and Astros before finally finishing his career in Los Angeles. He is best known for his time spent with Houston having played 10 years there.
Around baseball, Ausmus is extremely respected for his high intelligence and knowledge of the game. As a player, he was renowned for his unparalleled ability to utilize the strengths and weaknesses of his pitchers and opposing batters when he called pitches behind the plate. He was named the ninth-smartest athlete by Sporting News in 2010. Those smarts netted him a job as a special assistant to baseball operations with the Padres following the 2010 season.
Ausmus talked to Tablet Magazine about how his job as a catcher prepares him for a role as manager:
Catchers have a unique position. They constantly have to be in tune with the game. They must know the score, the inning, the strengths and weaknesses of the hitter, the strengths and weaknesses of the pitcher, who is on deck, who is available to pinch hit, who are the baserunners, how many outs, who is warming in the bullpen, do we need a double play or a strikeout, etc., and then, they must instantaneously price this information, and call the pitch. I think this prepares a catcher for a managerial job where many of the same thoughts are processed. Also, a catcher understands what it takes to play everyday, but still relates to pitchers who may only play once a week.
In 2007, Ausmus wrote an article for ESPN talking about the media's effect on players and what he thought about press being allowed in the locker room. Ausmus wrote, "Here's the thing: With 24-hour coverage on ESPN -- and with more reporters in the clubhouse and more bloggers than ever before -- the media have reached an unprecedented level of intrusion and scrutiny" and talked about issues with press overstepping their boundaries. He also wrote "I know every news story can't be rosy. That's not reality. And there's little we can do to stem the growing intrusion of the press. So until newspapers stop printing, ESPN stops broadcasting and the Internet disappears, maybe some of us just need to develop thicker skins."
When Ausmus was a candidate for the Red Sox job, one major league talent evaluator talked to WEEI about Ausmus's smarts and what would make him a good manager:
"I can’t speak highly enough about Brad as a managerial candidate. I’ve sat at many games with him, talking about situations from a game management standpoint. The way he breaks down players, both mentally and physically, he already sees that part of the game. He’s got such good feel for the game, playing it for as long as he did, but he can look at it through a different lens, too, not just as a player. He can look at it through the lens of a front office guy. He can look at it through the lens of if he was managing the player. He can look at it through the lens of if he was purely a scout. He’s got this rare combination. To me, he’s got so many traits that will serve him well if and when he decides to do it. It’s a slam dunk that he’s going to manage in the major leagues. It’s really just when he wants to do it."
That same evaluator also suggested Ausmus would need some time to settle into the position as far as things like time management goes. He suggested a hiring team would need a veteran bench coach to help Ausmus along at the beginning. Tigers bench coach Gene Lamont fits that description perfectly. The 66-year-old has been in baseball since 1965 and has been with the Tigers since 2006.
Ausmus is seen as someone who will take more of a statistical approach to the game. In an interview with National Public Radio, he talked about the work he would do each week to prepare for upcoming games:
"I would do the graphs before every series. So and that would take me a couple hours. And then you go over each lineup on a given day which would only take about 20 minutes. And then I would spend another's 20 minutes every game that I was catching going over the chart myself and looking at that day's opposing lineup and just giving myself a little refresher of what the strengths and weaknesses are of each player in the opposing team's lineup."
With the talk of collisions at home plate being banned in the future due to several notable injuries this year, Ausmus can be counted as someone not in favor of a rule change, telling NPR:
No, I don't think there should be any rule changes other than with one caveat. I would say maybe take away the head hits. Any contact by the base runner at the catcher's head or above his shoulders could be deemed illegal. That way, with all the new studies and discoveries concerning concussions, you might be able to avoid some post-playing career issues, medical issues. But other than that, home plate's different. Home plate is not second base. Home plate is not third base. When you cross home plate, you've scored a run, and one run can make the difference in a game.
Ausmus is inheriting a talented team for his first managerial job. All indications are that he will be a successful major league manager. The baseball world will find out if that's true in 2014.