Brad Ausmus played for the Tigers as a catcher. (Sebastian Scheiner / Associated Press)
Detroit According to multiple reports unconfirmed by the Tigers as of late Saturday night and early Sunday but spreading like wildfire Brad Ausmus soon will head to Detroit to finalize plans to become the Tigers next manager.
Adam Spolane of Houston's SportsRadio 610 was first to report it, with Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports confirming it.
Lot of Brad Ausmus to the Cubs talk, but a source tells me he'll go to Detroit tomorrow to finalize a deal making him the new Tigers manager— Adam Spolane (@AdamSpolane) November 3, 2013
Ausmus, 44, has been a special assistant with the San Diego Padres after a long career as a major-league catcher including two stints with the Tigers. He has no major-league managing experience, but did manage Team Israel in the run-up to the 2013 World Baseball Classic and has been a top candidate for several available jobs including the Chicago Cubs. He also interviewed this offseason for the Washington Nationals job that went to another first-timer, Matt Williams.
He interviewed with Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski last week after which Ausmus said "we had a good baseball discussion" and that the interview went well. The Tigers confirmed the interview took place, with Dombrowski acknowledging to The News that while he had met Ausmus before, he didn't know him well.
That's about to change, it would seem.
Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon, the first to interview for the job, was regarded as the early front-runner, more because he knows the team so well after eight years on the coaching staff than his earlier managing experience with the Pittsburgh Pirates. If the Tigers were to stay in-house, the job would be his.
But it was thought from the start McClendon could be "out-interviewed" and that if he didn't get the job, it was because an impressive candidate came in and dazzled the Tigers. If the reports are correct, Ausmus clearly had exactly that a dazzling interview.
McClendon appears to remain in the running for the Seattle Mariners job.
The Tigers also have interviewed Los Angeles Dodgers third-base coach Tim Wallach and Padres bench coach Rick Renteria for the job. Perhaps a telling sign that Dombrowski wasn't ready for this news to become public, Wallach told The News late Saturday he had not heard from the Tigers one way or another about his candidacy.
The Tigers were believed to have some interest in Boston bench coach Torey Lovullo, who became available for interviews after the Red Sox celebrated their title Wednesday. But according to the Boston Globe, the Tigers never did seek permission to interview the former Detroit infielder.
That might've been a timing issue. Given the Cubs' perceived escalating interest in Ausmus, Dombrowski might have ramped up his efforts to get that deal done.
The Tigers are set to start organizational meetings Monday, on the eve of free-agency and it was speculated they'd want their man in place by then. Ausmus' predecessor, Jim Leyland, will participate, too.
Ausmus would be the 38th man to manage the Tigers, but few if any have been handed the collection of talent he's poised to inherit. The Tigers have made the playoffs three consecutive years, the ALCS two years in a row (including the World Series in 2012) and are the second-favorite to win the 2014 championship, according to early Las Vegas odds.
Dombrowski has to be hoping he can have the same success of another former catcher, University of Michigan alum Mike Matheny, who hadn't managed a single game before he was named the St. Louis Cardinals manager. All he's done is take the Cardinals to the brink of the World Series in 2012, before getting there this year.
Ausmus was born in the shadows of Yale, in New Haven, Conn., but was educated at another Ivy League school, Dartmouth. Brains, certainly, are a big part of his resume. A former teammate in Detroit told The News he preferred those in his inner circle to be on his level, academically.
He went on to have an 18-year major-league career, including a pair of stints with the Tigers 1996, and 1999-2000, the latter tenure ending in a surprise cost-cutting move that sent him and reliever Doug Brocail to the Houston Astros. He began and ended his career in California, with the Padres and Dodgers, respectively.
Ausmus never was much of a hitter he batted .251, and accumulated 80 home runs in 7,102 major-league plate appearances but was widely regarded as one of the game's top catchers. From 2001-06, he won three Gold Gloves (the other three in the National League during that span were won by Matheny), and was the Tigers' lone All-Star representative in 1999. One former teammate recently told The News that Ausmus was especially at his best blocking balls in the dirt, positioning his body just right so as to create a soft "pillow-like" effect.
Ausmus threw out 35 percent of would-be base-stealers during his career, including a league-best 49 percent in 1997. And holding runners was a major problem for the Tigers in 2013; no team had a worse percentage at throwing out runners. No doubt, Ausmus could be an asset there.
He had a big impact on the Dodgers young catcher, A.J. Ellis, during his two years in L.A.
"They still stay in touch," Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. "That's the type of guy you want to be around."
With the apparent hire, the Tigers follow two trends with a new, fresh manager (Williams, Matheny, Ryne Sandberg, etc.) and a manager that was a former catcher (Bruce Bochy, Joe Girardi, even Leyland). The latter makes a whole lot of sense, given the catcher is widely considered the field manager. He sees everything in front of him at all times, and often is charged with calling pitches and positioning the defense.
Yet to be seen is what happens to Leyland's staff. Matt Dery of Detroit Sports 105.1 reported Gene Lamont will stay on as bench coach, an understandable move given Ausmus' inexperience. Pitching coach Jeff Jones, given his strong bond with one of the best staffs in Major League Baseball, could return, as well. Jones, it's worth noting, also is one of the few remaining ties to Ausmus' playing career in Detroit.
But the picture for McClendon (if he doesn't get the Mariners job), Tom Brookens, Toby Harrah, Rafael Belliard and Mike Rojas appears fuzzier, as Ausmus almost certainly would be allowed to pick some of his own confidants, too.