October 24, 2013 at 10:30 am

Tom Gage

Lloyd McClendon has solid shot at Tigers' managerial opening

Detroit ó The job is within his sight, but not yet within his grasp.

Unless a long-shot candidate impresses Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski so much with the power of his personality and potential that he literally catapults himself into being hired, hitting coach Lloyd McClendon has a solid chance to become the next manager of the Tigers.

The interview process soon will begin. Perhaps it already has because Dombrowski doesnít let grass grow.

And if it comes out McClendon, the Tigers hitting coach, was the first interviewed, donít be surprised because by virtue of his eight years with the team, he should be first.

There are stones in any road, though.

McClendon is capable of being out-interviewed. Thereís not going to be a dynamic ďwowĒ factor when the Tigers talk to someone whoís been with the team eight years.

But there should be a comfort-and-continuity factor, not to mention a right-fit factor.

Even if out-interviewed, McClendon wonít be out-qualified when it comes to what Dombrowski, no doubt, considers important in the process.

Continuity for a team expected to be good again could be of paramount importance. An overhaul at the top probably wonít be considered essential.

The Tigers will have a good team returning, a team of multiple stars, of multiple strong personalities.

Thatís not to say the Tigers are a high-maintenance team. Strong personalities arenít necessarily difficult personalities, but if itís said later, in public praise of him, that Mac knows how to handle these guys, itís because he does

Smooth transition

For the Tigers players, the transition from Leyland to McClendon would be as seamless as possible.

They might not even notice the ashtrays being removed from Leylandís office.

And after being, shall we say, occasionally less than mellow when he managed in Pittsburgh, McClendon would be better aware of behavioral boundaries if given this chance.

He still speaks his mind, though.

As their hitting coach, McClendon has spoken frankly to the position players, but heís always had their back.

Case in point: The way he recently defended Prince Fielder against what he considered unfair criticism.

ďI donít think itís fair to say that Prince Fielder is the reason weíre not winning the series,Ē McClendon said before Game 6 of the American League Championship Series in Boston. ďThatís a bunch of baloney.

ďWhen the stage is this big, things are magnified. But I can tell you that Prince is working his butt off trying to get it right.Ē

Such support doesnít go unnoticed by players.

When asked for an opinion of McClendon ó but not for an endorsement because it wouldnít be fair to put a player in the position of favoring a candidate during a managerial search ó catcher Alex Avila said, ďMac is a great baseball person. He puts his heart and soul into the game, and Iím sure he would as manager.Ē

The players are at the mercy of the search, though. At the risk of taking the wrong side, they canít campaign.

But itís clear there is no undercurrent of friction between the players and the coach who could be their next manager.

In other words, the right-fit factor is already in place.

There's a process

Why then, is there a search at all ó if, in the end, itís likely to be McClendon?

■Because there has to be an interview process in accordance with baseballís regulations, and that process couldnít be conducted before now, or else the secret of Leylandís intentions would not have been protected.

■Because Dombrowski is open-minded enough to know even seemingly right decisions must be thoroughly tested.

If he hires McClendon, it will be only after he concludes itís the best decision instead of merely sensing that it is.

Who knows, there might be someone the Tigers bring in whose future as a manager so dazzles them that McClendon will have his dream shattered.

If there is such a candidate, Dombrowski wonít let the dues McClendon has paid get in the way.

But thatís what it will take for Dombrowski to be dazzled.

Or else Lloyd McClendon is the next Tigers manager.

tom.gage@detroitnews.com
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Lloyd McClendon has been on the Tigers staff since 2006, first as bullpen coach, then as hitting coach. / Robin Buckson / Detroit News