Sunday afternoon in Detroit, the Tigers named Brad Ausmus the 38th manager in franchise history. He takes the reins of a roster that fell two wins short of a World Series in 2013 and that can be expected to compete for the World Series again in 2014. This was not a fact lost on Ausmus or the Tigers, but it is a challenge to be answered.
"I'm well aware you don't often get dropped into an opportunity with a team like the Detroit Tigers," the 44-year old said. His new boss, Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski, acknowledged the risk of handing the keys to a guy who has never managed a professional baseball team a day in his life, but felt confident he made the right decision for the future of the franchise. "I think he has a chance to be a very good big league manager for a long time and help us win right now," Dombrowski said.
Ausmus should already be a familiar face in Detroit. He first arrived with the Tigers as a catcher in 1996, then returned in 1999 to close Tiger Stadium and open Comerica Park before again moving on. He hit .266 with a .736 OPS as a Tiger and .251 with a .669 OPS during his 18-year career. Ausmus acknowledged he was never the best hitter, joking about watching "irritated" as a 12-year-old Prince Fielder hit pitches into the upper deck and saying being the manager allows him to continue enjoying all the parts of the game he liked while avoiding the part he didn't: hitting. "From what Dave tells me, I don't have to hit in this role," he joked.
As had been previously reported, just one coaching decision has been made so far: the decision to bring Gene Lamont back from Jim Leyland's staff to serve as bench coach. With all the experience Leyland's right-hand man has around the game, that should help Ausmus to overcome a lack thereof. The rest falls to Ausmus, who Dombrowski picked for his ability to lead the team. "You have to be cognizant about what being a manager in today's game means and not what it was 20 years ago," he said. "Communicating with players and providing leadership are probably the most important parts of the job, assuming you have a pulse of the game. Every time Brad's name came up was effusive with praise. They talked about his leadership capabilities. ... It always kept coming back, this guy was born to manage many years ago. You could tell he was going to become a manager many years ago."
Every manager has his way of imprinting his own image on a team, and Ausmus comes into the job already knowing what he wants the Tigers to reflect: playing the game the right way and doing the little things. "The biggest compliment you could get from the other side of the field is them saying, 'I love the way your players play the game.'" He wants to see them taking the extra base when the opportunity arises, and he wants his pitchers and catchers to limit opponents as well. "Even though you have the capability of hitting a three-run homer you have to have that aggressive nature," Ausmus said. "Create the mind set of wanting to get that next base or better yet two bases ahead."
Ausmus will have some big shoes to fill. Leyland won 700 games in Detroit across eight seasons, made four playoff appearances with two World Series appearances and three division titles. He brought baseball excitement back to the city of Detroit. But if he's to be successful, Ausmus knows he'll have to be himself. "Honesty sticks out to me, but I think the most important thing is I got to be me," Ausmus said. "Jim Leyland is a great hall of fame manager. I'd never make an attempt to be Jim Leyland. I have to be who I am."
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