DETROIT — Something keeps bringing Brad Ausmus back to Detroit.
On Sunday, the Tigers’ two-time former catcher (1996, 1999-2000) returned to the Tigers as the team’s new manager.
Ausmus, 44, has no major league managing experience, but he had the endorsement of many people in baseball, including former St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa, who had dinner with Ausmus at the request of Tigers’ president and general manager Dave Dombrowski.
Ausmus had spent the last three seasons as a special assistant to baseball operations for the San Diego Padres.
But there was something about being more closely involved with the game that he missed.
“The truth is when I played, I always enjoyed the cerebral part of the game,” Ausmus said. “It was much more difficult to hit. That was the part of the game that I didn’t really enjoy. From what Dave tells me, I don’t have to hit in this role.
“The thing I’ve missed most about the game is the players, the guys, being around the clubhouse, being in the dugout. So I’ve been able to remove the hitting part of the equation and everything else in the equation looks good to me. I think that’s a big reason why managing appeals to me.”
To help offset his lack of managing experience, Ausmus said Gene Lamont will remain as the Tigers’ bench coach.
Lamont issued a statement through the Tigers.
“I’ve known Brad since my time coaching with the Astros in 2002,” Lamont said. “He is not only a good baseball mind but a very smart baseball mind. I really wanted to stay in Detroit so I’m thrilled that I’ll be able to help Brad as his bench coach.
“We have a good team with the Tigers and I am confident that Brad will continue that success.”
Dombrowski revealed that if Lamont had gotten the Boston Red Sox managerial job two years ago, Lamont said he planned to hire Ausmus as his bench coach. That job went to Bobby Valentine.
Although Ausmus does not have a lot of managerial experience, Dombrowski believes he has other qualities which will help him succeed in that role.
“I think something I bring as a manager that an older veteran manager wouldn’t have is the fact that I was just playing the game three years ago,” Ausmus said. “I’m not that far removed from the players, I have a pretty good understanding of how the locker room dynamic is.
“Three years ago I was intermingling in the Dodger clubhouse with 20-year-old Clayton Kershaw and 35-year-old Manny Ramirez, so I have a pretty good feel, I think, of the modern day player, what the makeup is, what the mindset is.”
Ausmus was the manager of Team Israel during the World Baseball Classic and has played for several different managers.
Because of his experience as a player, Ausmus said he would likely lean towards being a players’ manager but he recognized that sometimes he would have to make tough decisions involving players’ careers and livelihoods.
“The one thing that is very important to me is that I be very honest with these guys,” Ausmus said. “If you’re not honest with the players, and I remember well with managers who weren’t honest, the respect disappears and the trust disappears very quickly.
“If you don’t have that, you can lose a clubhouse very quickly. So I think that probably would be my approach. The honesty sticks out to me.”
When Ausmus said that, it sounded like something former manager Jim Leyland would say.
But Ausmus is not Leyland, even though the two may share some views.
“I think the most important thing is I gotta be me,” Ausmus said. “Jim Leyland, great, Hall of Fame manager, I’m not going to be Jim Leyland. I’m not gonna make an attempt to be Jim Leyland.
“I’m going to be who I am and if that translates into being a players’ manager or being a little bit tougher at times, then that’s what it’s going to be.”
Like Leyland, however, Ausmus was a catcher, something that often helps when it comes to managing.
“That forward thinking that a manager has to deal with, and really that’s what allows a manager to kind of slow the game down, is to be planning ahead before things happen,” Ausmus said. “That’s what you do as a catcher.
“You’re constantly thinking about what could be happening next. Probably more than what you’re thinking about what’s happening right this second. So I do think catching gives you that perspective.
“Being a catcher not only gives you that perspective on the pitchers, but I’ve also been through the daily grind of 500 at-bats or plate appearances as an everyday player. So you have an idea of what that guy is going through, who has to grind through a slump, or he’s tired on a Sunday day game. It just kind of puts you in tune with that as a catcher. You see both sides of the diamond within your own team.”
Although Ausmus said he did not know most of the current Tigers players personally, he has known Prince Fielder for many years.
“The one person I know the best of the group is probably Prince,” Ausmus said. “I played against Prince when he was in Milwaukee and I was in Houston, both being in the Central Division, there was a lot of interaction.
“Because I reached first base a lot, I would talk to him over there. Also when I was here in 1996, Prince was 12-year-old hitting balls into the upper deck, which irritated me a little bit, so that’s probably the one person I have some sort of history with.”
Compared to some of the other managerial openings out there, the Tigers are different, having won their division the last three years and reaching the World Series twice in the last eight seasons.
It’s quite different from the Tigers’ teams Ausmus played on.
“We’re not going to reinvent the wheel here,” Ausmus said. “This is a pretty darn good team. I think I would be foolish to come here and try and make sweeping changes. Probably a little easier in terms of making the lineup card out for a team like the Detroit Tigers as opposed to a team that’s rebuilding or starting fresh.
“Over the last eight years or so, this is a winning franchise. Year in and year out, they’re competing. I think I should be held to that standard as well.”