Changing of the guard in Detroit
FEB 12, 2014 9:54a ET
DETROIT -- There's a framed poster of Ty Cobb in the manager's office at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Fla.
Cobb's in uniform and wearing sunglasses in the black-and-white portrait that has adorned the wall across from the manager's desk for decades.
Nobody's quite sure how the photo got there, but it's become a topic of conversation over the years. The poster paper is torn on Cobb's face because in 1977, while managing the Class A Lakeland Tigers, Jim Leyland got irate and let fly a baseball spike that tore into the ol' Georgia Peach.
Leyland, who retired as manager of the Detroit Tigers last season after 1.769 victories in the majors, could make a dull day in spring training interesting with stories like that. They would be told through cigarette smoke while he leaned back in his chair and chuckled, knowing that the reporters surrounding him were eating up this stuff.
We'll still see him around the Grapefruit League this spring, though. Leyland's now a consultant to Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski.
"I'll be there in March, once the games start," Leyland said when we talked recently. "Dave wants me to take a look at the other teams and scout a bit. I'm excited about it."
Leyland's also pleased with his successor, Brad Ausmus, who will be in charge Thursday, when pitchers and catchers report for spring training.
"I like Ausmus a lot," Leyland said. "He's a good choice, and Gene (Lamont) and Jonesy (Jeff Jones) will help him with all they know about this team."
Lamont, the bench coach, and pitching coach Jones were retained from Leyland's staff. Only hitting coach Lloyd McClendon, who will manage the Seattle Mariners, was replaced by Wally Joyner.
So the team's central brain trust remains pretty much in place -- except, of course, for the main brain.
Much will be made of how a Dartmouth grad is replacing a graduate of the school of hard knocks. Leyland spent 11 years riding the buses as a minor-league manager and working winter factory jobs back home in Toledo to make ends meet.
But it's not like Ausmus is going to bore writers with stories about his term papers and dissertations. I found him to have a good, dry wit during the Tigers' recent winter caravan stops.
He is, after all, the guy who broke the tension on a Houston Astros team flight after a demoralizing loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2005 NCLS by commandeering the pilot's microphone.
"If you look to your right you will see the ball Albert Pujols hit last night," Ausmus chimed. "It's still orbiting the earth."
No, it's not going to be boring with the new guy, but what will matter much more than his sense of humor will be the won-loss record and postseason success.
If he wins the World Series and attains the only thing Leyland didn't in eight years with Detroit, Ausmus will become even more popular than Leyland did in taking the Tigers to the Series in his first season. If the team doesn't at least reach the Fall Classic, Ausmus will realize a deluge of doubts faster than any manager in this town ever has.
He knows the comparisons to Leyland are sure to come no matter what.
"I will do some things Jim Leyland would not do," Ausmus said. "And I will do some things Jim Leyland would do."
Tigers Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer is sure of one difference.
"No more Marlboros," said Scherzer, chuckling at the thought of Leyland's constant smoking. "Our new manager doesn't smoke. We have to find a vice for him."
Ausmus probably is a safe bet to also refrain from chucking anything at the Cobb poster. However, the "Genius in Spikes" did have a way of agitating people, so you never know.