While still reeling from the Detroit Tigers’ failed bid for the American League title, Tigers fans were dealt another blow: Tigers manager Jim Leyland announced his retirement. Now, a couple weeks after the Skipper’s departure, General Manager Dave Dombrowski has named Brad Ausmus as his replacement. Most people’s reaction to this news is something along the lines of a curious “Brad who?”, followed by either mild horror or hopeful optimism upon gaining some background on the 37th manager of the Tigers. The optimists obviously don’t know much about baseball.
Leyland was the last of a dying breed of old-school baseball managers, a bridge to the golden age of Sparky Anderson and intuitive managing. His eight-year long career in Detroit yielded over 700 wins, and in his 22 seasons as a Major League manager, half of them resulted in first or second place finishes for the teams he managed. He ranks 14th all-time in games managed with 3,499 and 15th in wins with 1,769. Players and fans alike expressed their respect for Leyland as he bid the Tigers an emotional goodbye.
Is it possible to top this Hall of Fame-worthy run of successes? Possibly. Is Brad Ausmus the one to do it? Unlikely. His playing career was impressive enough; the 44-year-old former catcher played two stints for the Tigers during his 18 seasons in the majors. He won three Gold Gloves during his career, and was an All-Star for the Tigers in 1999. He was brilliant defensively, finishing his career in 2010 ranked third in major league history for putouts with 12,839.
Impressive, but sadly outweighed by the fact that he has absolutely no managerial experience in the majors or the minors. He did manage Team Israel in the qualifying tournament for the 2013 World Baseball Classic, but until securing a position in Detroit, he worked as a special assistant for the San Diego Padres. Not reassuring, considering that the Padres are not exactly playoff material. Furthermore, his management of the Israel national team didn’t amount to much: Israel lost to Spain in extra innings in the Pool Finals, not even securing a spot in the World Baseball Classic.
According to SB Nation Sports, even Dave Dombrowski admitted that managerial experience, something that Ausmus certainly lacks, “is a real nice thing to have”.
The Tigers have a roster and a payroll designed for the express purpose of winning the World Series in the very, very near future. They do not need a manager who has yet to learn how to manage a baseball team; the 2014 Tigers cannot afford to lose games while they wait for Ausmus to grow into his position. They need a leader who can put them back together after shortstop Jhonny Peralta’s steroid scandal midway through the 2013 season. They need someone who can help repair the holes that have cost them the World Series two years running. They need . . .well, they need another Jim Leyland.
A rookie like Ausmus will not be able to effectively handle a veteran, World Series-caliber team that embodies the hopes and dreams of a city full of demanding sports fans. Fans that will tear him apart if he fails to capitalize on the Tigers’ prime position heading into the 2014 season. Watch out, Brad. Tigers fans will be scrutinizing your every move. Once they find out who you are, that is.