Brad Ausmus has not been a manager in the majors or the minors. (Alan Diaz / Associated Press)
Detroit – All things being equal, Dave Dombrowski seems to prefer experience when looking for a big-league manager.
But, there are signs that it’s not exactly a deal-breaker.
As the Tigers look far and wide for the man who will succeed Jim Leyland as manager, Dombrowski, the team’s president and general manager, has reached out to several relatively inexperienced candidates.
One, Los Angeles Dodgers third-base coach Tim Wallach, interviewed Friday. Another, San Diego Padres front-office executive Brad Ausmus, could interview Monday. And still a third, Padres bench coach Rick Renteria, also has plans to meet with Dombrowski, as well, according to a report by CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman late Sunday night.
Those three men have combined to manage precisely zero major-league ballgames – and Ausmus hasn’t even managed in the minor leagues, though he did have a recent stint as skipper for Team Israel’s unsuccessful bid to make the World Baseball Classic.
Meanwhile, the Tigers also are believed to be, at least, doing their homework on Dave Martinez and Torey Lovullo, who are the bench coaches of the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox, respectively.
Only one known candidate, Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon, has big-league managerial experience – a five-year stint with the Pittsburgh Pirates, from 2001-05.
McClendon very well could end up being the Tigers’ choice – though the fact he soon also will interview for the Seattle Mariners vacancy is, at least, eye-opening.
But Dombrowski is at least giving serious consideration to a recent trend in baseball – the hiring of a new wave of managers, rather than simply wading through the retread file. Sure, every team wants Joe Maddon, but he’s not leaving the Tampa Bay Rays. So ballclubs are doing the next-best thing: Trying to find the next Joe Maddon.
And it makes sense, because it’s worked. Just look at the St. Louis Cardinals. In picking a replacement for Tony La Russa, they decided to go with Mike Matheny, who hadn’t even managed a high-school game. It was a bold move, and it’s worked. He took the Cardinals to the NLCS in 2012, and has them two wins away from a World Series title in 2013.
Last offseason, the Chicago White Sox tabbed Robin Ventura – and in his first year, his team took the powerhouse Tigers down to the wire.
Ten other teams also have opted for the fresh-face approach in recent years – the Houston Astros (Bo Porter), Arizona Diamondbacks (Kirk Gibson), Chicago Cubs (Dale Sveum), Colorado Rockies (Walt Weiss), Dodgers (Don Mattingly), Miami Marlins (Mike Redmond), Milwaukee Brewers (Ron Roenicke), and just lately the Cincinnati Reds (Bryan Price), Philadelphia Phillies (Ryan Sandberg) and Washington Nationals (Matt Williams).
It doesn’t always work, of course. Sveum was fired after just two seasons.
But a lot of times, it is successful. Prior to the 2007, the Texas Rangers gave Ron Washington his first shot – and he ended up taking the team to back-to-back World Series, and twice in 2011 had his team a strike away from celebrating a championship. After just one year managing in the minors, the (then-Anaheim) Angels named Mike Scioscia manager prior to 2000; in just this third season, the team won a World Series.
Ron Gardenhire had less minor-league managing experience than Renteria does before he got the Minnesota Twins job in 2002, but led the team to six division championships in his first nine seasons on the job.
Few teams, however, are handing off the keys to a Maserati – as Dombrowski soon will do with his star-studded Tigers team that, frankly, should’ve already won a World Series the last few years, and will be among the favorites to finally get the job done in 2014.
So there’s a definite risk in the Tigers going with a newbie.
Trust, however, might be just as critical in the equation, which, perhaps, is why Dombrowski has been turning to some past relationships.
He knows McClendon from his eight years on Leyland’s staff in Detroit; Wallach was an All-Star third baseman with the Montreal Expos when Dombrowski was their GM in the late 1980s and 1990s; and Renteria was a manager in the (then-Florida) Marlins system when Dombrowski was their GM in the 1990s and early 2000s.
There is no known history between Dombrowski and Ausmus, though Ausmus does have Tigers ties. He was a catcher in Detroit in 1996 and again from 1999-2000, and in the latter stint played, in part, under manager Larry Parrish – who, back for a fourth go-around with Detroit’s Triple-A affiliate in Toledo, is highly trusted by the Tigers’ brass. So, it’s highly likely Dombrowski and Parrish have consulted about the Ausmus candidacy.