On Friday, the Tigers announced an unusual combination of decisions: Brad Ausmus wasn’t going to be coming back, but he wasn’t going to be leaving right away, either.
That could come off as inhumane if Ausmus hadn’t wanted to finish out the string, but instead, Detroit General Manager Al Avila was obliging the manager who he had argued to retain a couple years earlier.
Reading the obituary of the Ausmus era by Chris McCosky of the Detroit News, some of the paragraphs sounded like transplants from a previous dismissal.
I was also aware then that Ausmus did not want to return. We talked about it and he always put me off —saying he hadn’t decided yet what he wanted to do. Things could change. But I knew. And he knew that I knew.
But I also knew he was adamant about finishing the season, honoring the final year of his contract right to the last day. That meant something to him.
He preferred to do his lecturing, his disciplining, his teaching in private. One on one with the player in question. He had one or two team meetings per season. That’s all. Any more than that and the meetings, he felt, would lose their intended impact.
Although fans would have loved to see him show more emotion in the dugout, he didn’t need to make scenes for the sake of public relations.
There are others, and I suppose it should sound familiar. The Ausmus era was a year shorter than Robin Ventura’s tenure with the White Sox, but they both followed the same arc.
*Neither had had any big-league coaching experience ... Both were special assistants in the front office, with Ausmus owning a slight edge by managing Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic.
*... and yet they had big shoes to fill. Two years after Ventura replaced Ozzie Guillen, Ausmus took over for Jim Leyland.
*At least they had their looks. Ausmus and Ventura were top-three in managerial handsomeness.
*They had their biggest success early. The White Sox won 85 games in Ventura’s first year, which would be easily the most in any of his five seasons. Ausmus can at least claim an AL Central crown in 2014.
*They both could have been fired earlier. They both suffered huge setbacks in their second seasons, and Mike Ilitch reportedly planned to fire Ausmus at the end of 2015. At least he bounced back to record a second winning season, which is something Ventura never accomplished, but the Detroit Free Press’ Anthony Fenech said they should have gone with their gut.
Avila believed Ausmus, with more experience, would evolve into the right manager for the job and convinced late team owner Mike Ilitch to stick with him for another season.
After an injury-riddled and still flawed team came up short last season, Avila made the mistake again, exercising Ausmus’ contract option for 2017.
By that point, cracks of accountability had begun to show inside the clubhouse. Ausmus’ everyday, smooth and steady message was not getting through. In-game decisions were questioned. His leadership style, as well.
*They were both let go at the end of their contracts. The Tigers handled it more tactfully than the White Sox, though. They stopped the speculation by announcing the dismissal with more than a week remaining. That gave Ausmus the opportunity to save a little face by saying it wouldn’t have been right for him to return anyway, if given the chance. The Sox skipped the first part, and in the process looked like they lacked the courage to fire Ventura themselves.
While the Tigers might have learned from Ventura’s awkward departure, they missed an opportunity to learn from Ventura’s early decline. Dave Dombrowski tapped Ausmus to lead the Tigers after Ventura’s Sox lost 99 games.
They were both a part of a wave of no-experience managers who came from off the radar to land MLB jobs, and the success rate hasn’t been kind. Ventura and Walt Weiss didn’t last, Ausmus is on the way out, and Mike Matheny has been on the ropes. That leaves Craig Counsell (who has his Brewers on a good trajectory) and Scott Servais (too soon to tell) as managers who have yet to be undermined by their lack of reps in a non-playing capacity.
The good news is that the White Sox are a year ahead of the Tigers in turning the page, building a deep farm system while resetting their payroll. It’s unclear whether Rick Renteria is a championship-grade manager, but he’s added to the credibility of the rebuild as he approaches the end of his first full season. With the Ausmus news coming after the Justin Verlander trade and in the midst of a 4-18 September, the Tigers are doing their damndest to catch up.
The Royals could find themselves in a similar conundrum by the end of the season, but Ned Yost isn’t going anywhere.
Yet when the topic of his future surfaced on Thursday, Yost assumed a familiar posture — one that could perhaps be described as amicably combative.
In one moment, Yost described an inquiry into whether he would manage next season as a “stupid question.”
“I’m under contract next year,” he said.
Later, when a reporter asked whether he would be comfortable managing next season on the final year of his contract, Yost said he did not care.
“That’s no issue for me,” he said. “None. Zero. I’ll gladly go year to year and probably will.”