Tracy Ringolsby

Tigers find right skipper in Ausmus

Tigers find right skipper in Ausmus

DETROIT -- A year ago, when manager Jim Leyland made it clear he really was going to retire, Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski was uncertain enough about a potential replacement that he admitted to having an initial list of 50 candidates. There wasn't one in that group who stood out like the year before when Terry Francona found work as the manager of the Indians. So Dombrowski went outside the box.

With a team that had a roster and payroll that created postseason expectations, he filled the managerial vacancy by hiring Brad Ausmus, a former Dartmouth catcher who caught in the big leagues for 18 years and had spent the three previous seasons as a special assistant for the Padres.

As far as managerial experience, well, Ausmus did manage Israel in the 2013 World Baseball Classic qualifying round.

A bit of a risk? Of course.

"Every time you hire a manager it is somewhat of a gamble," said Dombrowski. "A manager in the prime of his career doesn't walk into your office looking for work too often. He's usually managing somewhere else and that club doesn't let him go. So you take a chance."

Dombrowski hit the jackpot. Ausmus has had an impressive debut. He took a team that was expected to win the American League Central and won it. Now Ausmus and the Tigers are getting ready for the postseason, which pits them against the Orioles in the AL Division Series beginning Thursday.

The hope is that the Tigers will finish with a win in the final game of the World Series, giving the Tigers their first championship since 1984.

The Tigers came up short in each of the past three postseasons, even with the highly-regarded and successful Leyland managing the team, which just underscores that there are no guarantees.

"It's not an easy expectation to handle, the expectation to win, and we have a lot of stars on our team," said Dombrowski. "It's a gamble with anyone you hire.

"I was [in the front office] with the White Sox when Tony La Russa was almost run out of town. He became pretty good."

Good enough was La Russa as a manager that he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in July, along with Bobby Cox and Joe Torre. What did they have in common, other than managing teams to World Series championships? Well, La Russa was fired by the White Sox and left the A's before taking over in St. Louis, where he spent 16 years.

Cox was let go as the manager of the Braves in 1980, went to Toronto, where he managed the Blue Jays to their first postseason appearance in 1985, returned to the Braves to be general manager in 1986, and then went back to the dugout in 1991 for a tenure that included a record 14 consecutive first-place finishes.

Torre was fired by the Mets, Braves and Cardinals before being hired by the Yankees in a move that was greeted by the New York tabloids with the back-page headline "Clueless Joe." After taking the Yankees to the postseason in all 12 seasons he managed and winning four World Series championships, he resigned and finished his career with three years of filling out lineup cards for the Dodgers.

Whitey Herzog, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010 for his managerial skills with the both Royals and the Cardinals, didn't survive his first full season as a manager with the Rangers. He was dismissed 138 games into the 1973 season because owner Bob Short was intent on bringing in Billy Martin days after he was fired by the Tigers. Herzog also managed the 1974 Angels for four games in 1974.

There just aren't many managers around like Walter Alston, who had a one-year contract in each of the 23 years he was with the Dodgers. But even Alston didn't win the World Series in his first season as a manager.

There have been only four managers to win a World Series in their first season -- Bucky Harris, a player/manager with the Senators in 1924, Eddie Dyer with the Cardinals in 1946, Ralph Houk with the Yankees in 1961 and Bob Brenly with the D-backs in 2001.

It might be worth noting that the D-backs dismissed Brenly 79 games into the 2004 season. Houk moved to the GM's office for the Yankees after the 1963 season, though he returned to the bench in 1966. Dyer took the Cardinals to second-place finishes in 1947-49 and was let go after finishing in fifth place in 1950. Harris survived five years with the Senators in what became a 29-year managerial career that resulted in his Hall of Fame induction.


"I think we might look back in 20 years and say, 'Remember when Brad Ausmus started managing for the Tigers in 2014?'" said Dombrowski. "He's a good baseball man. He is intelligent. He communicates well. He keeps his composure but he gets his point across."

There is certainly nothing to complain about in his rookie managerial season.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for Read his blog, Write 'em Cowboy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.