Ausmus an exciting gamble for Detroit

Yes, it is a gamble.

The Tigers have decided to hire Brad Ausmus as their next manager.

The Tigers are about to give a team loaded with stars and World Series potential to a guy who has never managed in the major leagues.

But think about the other side of the issue.

Last season, the Tigers had a manager with all the experience in the world, and he couldn’t get them to the World Series, either.

So there’s that.

Now, that’s not a knock on former manager Jim Leyland.

I’m just saying, the players determine whether a manager is successful.

Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski laid the ground work for this risky move on the day that Leyland announced his retirement.

“I’ve always been a strong advocate of having managerial experience,” Dombrowski said on Oct. 21. “Not necessarily at the major-league level.”

But Ausmus has never coached or managed at the big-league level. In the minors. Or in college.

Which is the one thing about this hire that is incredibly puzzling. And it ratchets up the risk factor.

Ausmus, who is Jewish, did manage the Israel national team in September 2012 trying to qualify for the World Baseball Classic. The Israelis won twice but lost to Spain in the final game. Since retiring in 2010, after 18 seasons, Ausmus, 44, has been a special assistant with the San Diego


Dombrowski was pretty clear that he didn’t plan to bring in a big name with tons of experience.

“Last year, I thought there was an obvious name out there, that was a real blue chip candidate to manage a good club and that was Terry Francona,” Dombrowski said.

But Francona, of course, is now in Cleveland.

“I don’t have a name like that, this year,” Dombrowski continued. “So it’s going to take a lot of thorough research and hopefully, we make the right


And he has reportedly found his new manager in Ausmus, a former catcher, just like Leyland.

Ausmus is smart — he studied at Dartmouth — and knows how to handle pitchers.

But he is also a people person, by all accounts, likeable and highly respected in the clubhouse. That was certainly the case during his 2½ seasons with the Tigers.

Personally, I’m excited about this hire.

I have no idea whether it will work or not, and neither do the Tigers, but it is exciting.

Too often teams hire managers simply because they have experience.

That’s the easy way to do things.

Bring in a retread. Just because it’s safe.

But Dombrowski is making a calculated gamble. He has a team now. And clearly, if these reports are accurate, he is sure that Ausmus can lead this team.

Is this the ideal?

No. The ideal would be somebody like Terry Francona.

The ideal would be somebody like Tony La Russa.

The ideal would be to bring back Leyland for one more year.

But that’s not going to happen.

“We will find somebody who is good,” Dombrowski said, back on the day Leyland retired from managing. “But they got some tough shoes to fill. But we will find somebody who can handle the club.”

Now, it will be important for Ausmus to surround himself with coaches who have a lot of experience.

Dombrowski has said that the new manager will determine who will be on the coaching staff. But Dombrowski retains veto power, if there is a coach he doesn’t think would fit on the staff.

The contracts of the coaches on Leyland’s staff expired Oct. 31.

Dombrowski said there are “some people” that he “would be very happy” to have on staff.

But the new coach will get to pick his own staff.

Many view managing as simply making game decisions. Pinch hit? Hit and run? Bunt? Steal? Those are all the things that get second guess on sports-talk radio and on the Internet.

But there is so much more to this job. It is knowing how to handle everybody from star players to role players. It is dealing with the media and the fans and the front office. It is knowing when to give players a day off.

A good manager has to have the feel of his players.

It is knowing when to push buttons and when to back off.

And Dombrowski values one more thing. Something that often gets overlooked.

“One of the biggest responsibilities of a manager, but also one of the hardest things to determine, is how they handle a pitching staff,” Dombrowski said Oct. 21. “It’s extremely important.”

And clearly, as a former catcher, Ausmus is intimately tied to pitching. He knows how to handle pitchers. He spent his entire career dealing with the quirks and oddities of pitchers.

So this hire makes sense on a lot of levels.

Ausmus used to be known as a coach on the field. He has an engaging personality. He has experience with pitchers. And he is bright.

Even though he’s young, even though he is inexperienced, I find this incredibly exciting.


Posted by Tribune News Services

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