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Changing of the Old Guard

by Matt Smith

The videos and photos from Boston’s World Series parade tell us all that the sad moment has come around again: the baseball season is over and there are going to be no Major League games to enjoy for several months.

Of course, the baseball off-season is really the baseball-playing off-season. November to February will not be light on baseball news to devour, digest and comment upon; far from it.

The player ‘hot stove’ will likely take a few weeks to really start to simmer, but the managerial merry-go-round is already in full swing.

The main baseball story to read about on Sunday morning was the reports that the Detroit Tigers are going to appoint Brad Ausmus as their new manager, taking over from the retiring Jim Leyland.

If the reports are accurate, there’s going to be a significant change in direction in Detroit as, on the face of it, the Tigers are moving from one end of the spectrum to the other.

Leyland was the personification of ‘old school’ among Major League managers, 68 years old with 22 years of Major League managerial experience and plenty of worry lines on his face to prove it. In contrast, Ausmus is 44, only a few years removed from ending his Major League playing career in 2010 and, aside from a brief stint as Israel’s World Baseball Classic manager, possesses precisely zero managing or coaching experience at the Big League level.

Ausmus hasn’t paid his managerial or coaching dues, but does that really matter? With 18 years of Major League playing experience as a catcher, it’s very questionable whether a few years of managing in the Minors or being a third-base coach would significantly improve his ability to manage a Major League team.

No two individuals are exactly the same and the path required to prepare oneself for managing will differ accordingly.

Leyland, for example, never made it to the Majors as a player. He played in the Minors for seven seasons and then spent ten years as a Minor League manager before joining Tony La Russa’s staff as a third-base coach with the Chicago White Sox. That combined experienced led him to his first Major League managerial appointment with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1986. Ausmus was drafted by the New York Yankees out of High School the following year.

The initial response to reports of Ausmus’s appointment has been extremely positive, lauding him as an intelligent baseball man with all the communication skills required to get the best out of his players. It will take some adjustment on behalf of those players though as they were familiar with Leyland’s ways and routines.

There’s no doubt that it’s a great job for Ausmus to take on considering the playing talent he has at his disposal. That creates a certain amount of pressure as if things don’t go so well then fingers will be pointed at the new link in the chain and his lack of managerial and coaching experience will then be a talking point.

Walt Weiss took over the Colorado Rockies prior to the 2013 season and like Ausmus he came into it with only his Major League playing career to fall back on. The Rockies subsequently finished dead last in the NL West with a 74-88 record but no one saw that as a reflection on Weiss. Rightfully there were low expectations going into the season due to the playing roster he had to work with and Weiss was able to use the year as a learning experience.

However, given the choice of getting your feet wet in relative comfort with a team not expected to be in contention or diving straight in with a team that has reached two ALCS’s and a World Series in the last three season, anyone would gladly accept the pressure that Ausmus will be under in 2014. Fellow ex-catcher Mike Matheny will testify to that having completed the same leap as Ausmus in replacing Leyland’s old friend La Russa in St. Louis two seasons ago.

If Ausmus is confirmed in post with the Tigers, that will leave two Major League managerial vacancies still to be filled at the Chicago Cubs and Seattle Mariners respectively.

So far this offseason, the Washington Nationals have chosen former Arizona Diamondbacks third-base coach Matt Williams to replace the retiring Davey Johnson, whilst the Cincinnati Reds promoted pitching coach Bryan Price to take over from the sacked Dusty Baker.

When you add in Ryne Sandberg being confirmed as the full-time successor to Charlie Manuel after serving as the interim manger with the Philadelphia Phillies, there’s a real changing of the old guard taking place among the ranks of Major League managers. It will be interesting to see if the Cubs and Mariners follow this pattern with their appointments over the next few weeks.

Further reading

Full details of Jim Leyland’s playing and managerial career can be found on his Baseball-Reference page.

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1 comment

Rounding the Bases | BaseballGB November 17, 2013 - 10:34 am

[…] the Detroit Tigers did indeed appoint Brad Ausmus as their new manager, that left the Chicago Cubs and Seattle Mariners as the […]


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