Brad Ausmus must have impressed the hell out of somebody. How else do you explain handing the reins of a contending team to a guy with no Major League managerial experience? In fact Ausmus’s only managerial experience was with the Israeli national baseball team in the qualifying round for the World Baseball Classic earlier this year.
No offense to the Israelis, but that’s the equivalent of managing a couple of games of college baseball. And while the Israelis did manage to win two of the three games they played, they didn’t qualify to play in the Classic.
So what convinced Tigers owner Mike Illich and general manager Dave Dombrowski to give the job to Ausmus?
Actually, there is reason to wonder how much Tigers owner Mike Ilich had to say about it at all. Illich has been conspicuously absent over the last few weeks since the Tigers were eliminated from the playoffs by the Red Sox. Uncharacteristically he’s missed photo ops such as the retirement announcement of then-manager Jim Leyland, who has been like family (as have the Tigers in general to Illich), and the introduction of Ausmus.
And while that might leave us speculating about the health of Illich, that’s far from the thrust of this article.
This is about faith and the belief that new managers, especially Brad Ausmus, are capable of stepping into big shoes of the elder generation of managers as they begin to retire.
There is no doubt that Ausmus is a smart guy. He graduated from a good college (Dartmouth), he’s got plenty of experience controlling the game from behind the plate, and he’s a true student of the game. Many catchers are. You don’t need to look very far to find former catchers currently or recently managing in the Majors. Aside from Ausmus, there are 11: Mike Sciocia, Ned Yost, Mike Matheny, Joe Maddon, Joe Girardi, Freddi Gonzalez, Bob Melvin, Lloyd McClendon, John Gibbons, Mike Redmond and Bruce Bochy.
Catchers seem to make good managers, maybe because a good catcher also has to be a very smart one. He needs to know opposing hitters, he needs to know how to manage pitchers, he needs to know how to call a game, and he even needs to call for defensive adjustments. Basically he’s the on-field talent that the manager relies on to keep the game under control.
Ausmus was very good at that. That's why even though he never hit much -- OK, it was a respectable .251 with just 80 home runs -- he was a mainstay player on the field for 18 years. And Ausmus was one of those guys who always seemed, during all that time to keep his eyes and his mind open and to keep learning. He was even labeled by the Sporting News as the ninth-smartest athlete in all of sports back in 2010.
Basically he was a manager in waiting, but really he was a manager waiting for a chance. For the past three years he’s got some seasoning on the non-playing side of the game, serving as a special assistant to the San Diego Padres.
Maybe having that on his resume was enough to convince someone to give him a chance. Certainly it didn’t hurt that the Cardinals’ Mike Matheny inherited a similar job with virtually no experience two years ago, and has lead the Cardinals to the NLCS and the World Series in that time.
No it couldn’t have hurt. But like most jobs, Ausmus had to do something special. He had to impress the hell out of somebody. Now he’ll have a chance to impress the rest of us.
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