Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon, in sunglasses, has interviewed several times since the Pirates fired him in 2005. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)
Detroit — As the weather cools off, the search for the next Tigers manager is heating up.
Late last week, Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski interviewed, on back-to-back days, the team’s current hitting coach, Lloyd McClendon, and the Los Angeles Dodgers’ third-base coach, Tim Wallach.
Those are the only formal interviews confirmed to have taken place with the Tigers, who are replacing the retiring Jim Leyland.
But there are expected to be many further discussions — with additional candidates — in the coming days, perhaps as early as today, as Dombrowski continues his quest for a manager in whom to trust a star-studded roster and a 2014 World Series favorite.
“It’s a great opportunity with the ballclub that they have,” Wallach, in town for dinner Thursday and a sit-down interview Friday, told The Detroit News. “It’s pretty well established that they’re one of the better teams, not only in the American League but in baseball. It is about as good an opportunity as you could possible ask for.”
McClendon, 54, and Wallach, 56, both have a quality Dombrowski craves — managerial experience, albeit at different levels. McClendon managed the Pittsburgh Pirates from 2001-05, while Wallach managed the Dodgers’ Triple A team from 2009-10.
Both also have a long-standing relationship with Dombrowski. McClendon has been on staff in Detroit for eight years, and Wallach was an All-Star third baseman in Montreal, where Dombrowski was just a pup GM in the late 1980s and early ’90s.
They were the first two to interview for the highly coveted gig, but certainly won’t be the last two — not with Dombrowski’s reputation of being maddeningly thorough. Time also is on his side, given he won’t want to name a new manager during the World Series and risk upsetting Major League Baseball’s chiefs who darn near demand the news cycle, this week, be entirely devoted to the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals.
Former Tigers, San Diego Padres, Houston Astros and Dodgers catcher Brad Ausmus, 44, who's now working in the Padres front office, is in the mix, and will interview, according to a report by Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Heyman also reported late Sunday that Rick Renteria, 51, the Padres' bench coach, will talk with Dombrowski, as well, though he is believed to be a leading candidate for the Chicago Cubs' managerial opening.
Renteria has minor-league managerial experience, Ausmus does not. Both, however, recently were managers of World Baseball Clasic teams — Renteria of Team Mexico, and Ausmus of Team Isreal, the latter which missed qualifying for the tournament.
Among others who figure to get consideration from the Tigers: former Dodgers, Pirates and Colorado Rockies manager Jim Tracy, 57; former Washington Nationals and Cleveland Indians manager Manny Acta, 44; recently fired Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker, 64; and former Tiger Torey Lovullo, 48, who, at this moment, has bigger things on his mind — being the bench coach of the American League champion Red Sox.
Ozzie Guillen, 49, who won a World Series with the Chicago White Sox before flaming out with the Miami Marlins, said on Twitter last week that it’d be his “dream” to manage his good friend, Miguel Cabrera. But it’s probably not Dombrowski’s dream to seriously entertain hiring a man who rarely thinks before he speaks. Guillen's represntatives, when contacted by The News, wouldn't confirm if the Tigers have reached out to Guillen, though did acknowledge his interest in the job.
McClendon, meanwhile, probably will be the only member of Leyland’s staff to get an interview. Bench coach Gene Lamont, 66, has said he doesn’t expect to be a candidate, and third-base coach Tom Brookens, 60, who once was seen as Leyland’s heir apparent, told The News on Sunday, “I’ve not heard anything from the Tigers.”
This could be smart thinking on Dombrowski’s part. There’s the theory he doesn’t want to interview more than one of the current staff members — for fear one gets the job, creating a rift among the others who stay on.
But McClendon might not be a slam dunk for the Tigers, either. If he were, there might have been a news conference already. And if he were, would he be planning to interview for the Seattle Mariners managerial opening, as he confirmed was the case to The News? It’ll be McClendon’s second go-around with the Mariners; he also interviewed three years ago for a job that eventually went to Eric Wedge, who recently walked away — and is yet another name making the rounds in the Tigers rumor mill.
McClendon is no stranger to interviewing; he’s done it several times since the Pirates canned him in 2005, capping his five-year tenure with a 336-446 record.
For Wallach, this is the fourth time he’s interviewed for a big league managerial opening. He also been in the running with the Padres, Milwaukee Brewers and, last year, the Red Sox, with whom he finished runner-up to John Farrell.
“No question that going through the process is certainly beneficial,” he said. “It gives you a little idea of what teams want to know. There’s always something different with each club, things that are important to them, but the more you go through it (it helps).”
Of the names being tied to the job, Wallach’s is probably among the most unfamiliar to Tigers fans. So here’s the short version: He played 17 seasons in the majors, mostly for the Expos, and was a five-time All-Star.
His coaching career, meanwhile, has been spent entirely with the Dodgers organization, which also is where he finished his playing career. He was Dodgers hitting coach from 2004-05 under Grady Little, then managed the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes from 2009-10 before joining first-year Dodgers manager Don Mattingly’s staff.
From 2006-08, the married father of three sons — all of whom play baseball professionally (two catchers, one pitcher) — took a break to spend time at home.
Asked to describe his managerial style, Wallach laughed and said, “Now you sound like my interview.”
“I am who I am,” he said. “I handle things the way I think they need to be handled. I would say I communicate well. I’m honest. One thing I know, if you’re not honest with your players, it’s not gonna work out very well. First and foremost, communicate with them and tell them the truth.”
His peers seem to agree.
Rick Honeycutt, the longtime pitching coach for the Dodgers, cited communication as among Wallach’s finest traits.
He also said he sees Wallach becoming a “players manager” who would allow the guys in the clubhouse to police themselves — a strength of Leyland’s, and critical in a locker room as starry as Detroit’s — but isn’t afraid to lay into ’em if deserved.
“I think you’re seeing this kind of wave,” Honeycutt told The News, talking about the latest trend of hiring fresh managers — like was the case last year in St. Louis (Mike Matheny) and with the Chicago White Sox (Robin Ventura), and just recently in Philadelphia (Ryne Sandberg), Cincinnati (Bryan Price) and Washington (they appear to be going with Matt Williams). “And he’s in that next wave of guys that would be a good choice.”
Ausmus is another name in that so-called "wave" — he may not have the managerial experience, but is widely regarded as one of the brightest baseball men around. Multiple acquaintances contacted by The News, including Honeycutt (Ausmus finished his playing career with the Dodgers), confirmed Ausmus’ knowledge is very real and impressive, and not simply reputation stemming from that Dartmouth degree.
Dombrowski has said he prefers at least some experience. Yet Ausmus is believed to be set to interview with the Tigers, maybe as early as today.
Tom Gage and Lynn Henning contributed to this report