The Detroit Tigers managerial search is still in low gear until the World Series, and thus the 2020 season, come to an end. But they haven’t been idle. As first reported by MLB.com’s Jason Beck, the Tigers interviewed Los Angeles Dodgers’ first base coach, George Lombard, for their managerial vacancy this week.
Lombard’s playing career ended in 2009, and he’s been coaching at both the minor and major league levels ever since. He’s spent the last five seasons with the Dodgers, coaching outfield defense and baserunning. Last year he was interviewed by the Pittsburgh Pirates to replace Clint Hurdle as their manager, and has been on the radar for a few other jobs. He’s generally regarded as a high-energy baseball lifer with strong teaching skills and a knack for forging relationships with players.
Lombard 45 years old, and a native of Atlanta, Georgia. He was a standout multi-sport athlete in high school and was actually in greater demand for his talents on the gridiron. He was an All-American high school running back according to several publications, and had actually committed to play college football for the Georgia Bulldogs before deciding his true love was baseball. He was ultimately drafted by his hometown Braves in 1994 as a second rounder.
An outfielder by trade, Lombard played parts of six seasons in the major leagues, amassing a career wRC+ of 66. He was never more than a bench player, known mainly for his baserunning and defense. Lombard spent the 2002 season with the Tigers, appearing in 72 games and stealing 13 bases while posting a .241/.300/.373 line.
His most notable moment as a player came when he joined a split squad Dodgers team that went to China to play the first major league exhibition games there back in 2008. In the process, he became the first American to hit a home run in the Middle Kingdom.
Lombard was already viewed as a future coach well before he finally hung up his spikes as a player. His intelligence, attention to the finer points of the game, and energy level drew notice from eventual Boston Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington, who told Lombard to contact him when his playing days were done. That connection led to his first coaching gig, as hitting coach for the Lowell Spinners, the short season A-ball affiliate of the Red Sox, in 2010.
From there, Lombard moved into the “future manager” track, managing for the Red Sox’s Gulf Coast League team in 2011-2012. They made him the roving minor league outfield and baserunning coordinator in 2013, a position he held through a move to the Atlanta Braves organization, before the Dodgers offered him a major league coaching opportunity in 2015.
It’s difficult to parse any particular analytics qualifications where Lombard is concerned, but considering he’s spent the last five seasons in the analytics and player development juggernaut that is the Dodgers organization, there are probably no real concerns on that front. Still, there is a theory and practice, and Lombard doesn’t have much experience as the one making the final decisions.
At just 45 years old, Lombard does have the energy, relatability, and hands-on approach to help develop young talent for the long haul. While he doesn’t have much experience calling the shots, he has managed in the minor leagues and has coached at all levels of the pro game. Along the way he’s been sought after by some talented front offices and managers, appears to be held in high regard by some of the brighter minds in the game, and has the contacts and reputation to bring quality skill coaches into the fold as his assistants.
In his own words, it all comes back to the love of teaching the game and working with players.
“Teaching is the fun part. Dealing with the players and seeing a player progress and being able to put your hands on them and help them progress — that’s the rewarding part. And it’s fun. I feel like I’ve never worked a day in my life.”
Is this a fit?
When the Tigers hired Brad Ausmus to replace Jim Leyland after the 2013 season, many who wanted a younger manager oriented toward the modern game—including myself— were quite enthused. In retrospect, the timing was poor as the inexperienced manager was snakebitten by a mess of a bullpen and his own mistakes during the first year of his tenure, the last in which the Tigers really fielded a serious contending roster. As many of our readers have pointed out in the intervening years, it felt like the Tigers got things a bit backward with Ausmus and then Ron Gardenhire.
The talented roster of veterans in 2014 perhaps would’ve benefited from the steady, experienced hand of Gardenhire or his ilk. Now, we’ve watched the way players are developed and coached modernizing at a rapid pace over the past few seasons, while Gardenhire and his veteran staff have struggled to improve the product on the field. Perhaps those years would’ve been better timed to introduce a rookie manager noted for his teaching ability and skill in translating numbers to coachable details. Whether Ausmus was ever that guy is another question entirely.
Were the Tigers to hire George Lombard to fill the manager’s chair, they seem likely to get a real players’ manager, a competitive, high energy person with excellent ability to connect to young players from a wide variety of backgrounds and experience levels. He is lauded for his teaching ability and communication skills, and he’s built up plenty of experience coaching for one of the most advanced and successful teams of the current era.
If the Tigers front office wants to avoid the baggage attached to options like A.J. Hinch and Alex Cora, one would think they’d be looking for the next big thing rather than an older, more experienced manager like the departing Gardenhire. The time may be right to establish another rookie manager with the ability to grow with his young team. If so, Lombard seems like he’d make a fine choice for the job.