Brad Ausmus: the manager's calm, cool demeanor being put to the test during Tigers' struggles

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

When you're winning, you're cool. When you're losing, you're too calm. A manager's demeanor is in the eye of the beholder (i.e. the fans).

Maybe someone should toss Brad Ausmus a hat.

Ausmus, the Tigers manager, is now finding out about baseball's version of "These are the times that try men's souls."

The calm, cool, collected Ausmus didn't experience much stress in his first 39 games as a big league skipper. The Tigers were 27-12 and were flying high.

But in their next 15 contests, the Tigers went 4-11 after a gruesome 5-3 loss to the Blue Jays on Tuesday -- a game that was scoreless heading into the ninth inning.

Billy Martin confronted a similar situation in 1972 as Tigers manager, and Billy turned to a hat.

It was Aug. 13 and the Tigers were losers of 10 of 14 games, which turned a 2½-game lead in the East Division into a one-game deficit to the Baltimore Orioles. The Tigers were riding a four-game losing streak, during which they scored a total of three runs.

That's when Martin, never a boring sort, reached for the hat.

With the exception of the pitcher, who would hit in the traditional ninth spot, Martin let his players draw the names of the eight position players from a hat. And those names would be written down in the form of a batting order.

The oddball lineup featured slugging first baseman Norm Cash batting leadoff and light-hitting shortstop Eddie Brinkman in the cleanup spot.

The Tigers didn't hit the cover off the ball, but they did beat the Cleveland Indians, 3-2, at Tiger Stadium in the first game of a twin bill.

The '72 Tigers would go on to edge the Boston Red Sox by a half-game to win the East Division.

Martin would try the names-out-of-a-hat thing a few more times in his managerial career, including two nights in a row as manager of the Yankees in April 1977 after New York dropped the first two games of a four-game series to the expansion Toronto Blue Jays to fall to 2-8 on the season. The Yanks won both games using Martin's magic hat.

Ausmus, of course, will never resort to Billy Martin's hat trick to right the ship. That would be extremely un-Dartmouth-like.

But these are the times that try Tigers fans' souls -- and probably that of the manager's.

Losing streaks and swoons can take their toll on the folks who are judged solely on wins and losses.

It is said that Tigers GM Jim Campbell, during a 10-game losing streak in the 1960s, lost 15 pounds on what could have been called the "I can't eat because I'm so uptight" diet.

And Martin himself, feeling the heat a year after his 1972 hat trick, got desperate and ordered two of his Tigers pitchers to throw spitballs at the Indians because Billy was agitated at Cleveland's famed greaser Gaylord Perry. Martin got caught by the league and was suspended. Campbell fired him before the suspension was lifted.

It was easy to speak of Ausmus' calm demeanor when the Tigers were winning. The manager was lauded for his hands-off style and for keeping an even keel.

Let's see how that demeanor makes it through this rough patch the Tigers are in.

And, even more fun, let's see how quickly Ausmus' laid-back style gets hacked to pieces by frustrated Tigers fans who feel the skipper is being too calm.

When your team is winning, the manager is cool as a cucumber. When the boys are losing, the manager is feckless.

It's the damned if you do, damned if you don't world of pro sports.

Thanks to an underwhelming Central Division, the Tigers, despite their 4-11 stretch (as of this writing), are still in excellent shape and in first place solidly. No team is going to catch them, if they haven't been able to make up any ground in the past couple of weeks -- which they really haven't.

Still, these are the times that try men's souls. Every baseball team has these times in a 162-game season. Some clubs just have them more than others.

This is Brad Ausmus' first stressful patch as a big league manager. He has a slumbering offense, a dicey bullpen (including a shaky closer), a black hole at shortstop and a perplexing downward slide by his starting rotation (with the exception of Anibal Sanchez) to deal with.

One thing is for sure, however: Ausmus won't be picking any names out of a hat. But the manager might be tempted to try it in his deepest, most private thoughts.

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