Al Avila has been a front office executive in Major League Baseball for the past 24 years, the last 14 of them with the Detroit Tigers serving as assistant general manager to club president and general manager Dave Dombrowski. Tuesday, Avila was given the opportunity to run the organization at last when the Tigers' released Dombrowski from his contract just months before it would have expired.
Now the general manager, Avila will report directly to owner Mike Ilitch and will be fully in charge of baseball operations. No president has been named.
Avila, now 57, worked with Dombrowski for the Florida Marlins in 1992, being promoted to director of international scouting, where he is credited with scouting many players from Latin America, including Miguel Cabrera, now the Tigers premier hitter. He was briefly the interim general manager in Florida after Dombrowski left in 2001, and was working as an assistant general manager for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2002 but left that job when Dombrowski joined the Tigers in 2002.
Al Avila has been around the game of baseball his entire life. His son is Tigers' catcher and sometime first baseman, Alex Avila. His father, Ralph Avila, worked as a scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers under Al Campanis, forming a strong relationship between the major league club and Del Licey, the oldest baseball franchise in the Dominican baseball league.
Ralph was born in Cuba and was first a part of and then a staunch opponent of Fidel Castro's revolution, making his way to Miami where he began a career in baseball. Ralph Avila coached Del Licey for a period and also coached the Dominican national team. He passed his skills as an evaluator of talent on to his son.
Avila was GM of the 1987 Daytona Beach Admirals. He was head coach of St. Thomas University from 1989-92 and was named Florida Sun Conference Coach of the Year in 1991 before taking a job with the Marlins. Tigers owner Mike Illitch had high praise for the Tigers' new general manager in a press release on Tuesday:
"Al Avila is a true baseball man. He's been involved in every facet of the game as a college head coach, scout and executive. His track record in identifying and developing talent is extremely impressive. I'm confident that Al will bring his own approach and his own style to the general manager position. He's worked extremely hard over the course of his career to afford himself this opportunity with the Detroit Tigers."
Avila seems the logical choice to replace Dombrowski, whose contract expires at the end of the 2015 season. There were reports of other clubs, including the Seattle Mariners, seeking permission to interview Avila for general manager positions, but the interviews were denied by Detroit, leading to speculation that Avila was the Tigers' GM in waiting.
Avila released this statement on his promotion:
"I'm very excited for this opportunity and honored and grateful to Mr. Ilitch for having the faith and trust in me to run the ballclub in our continuing pursuit of a World Series championship," Avila said in the release. "After 24 years in professional baseball and 14 with the Detroit Tigers, I believe I'm uniquely qualified to be successful in this role in leading this organization. We're confident we can make a strong push to win this year, and that we have the foundation in place to win next year and for years to come."
Avila inherits a team that is three games out of a wild card playoff spot in the American League, but whose four year run of division titles is about to come to an end. While Dombrowski held the title of president and general manager, Avila will strictly handle baseball operations. The Tigers will retain Duane McLean as Executive Vice President of Business operations to oversee the business end of the front office.