Brad Ausmus is in his first season as Tigers manager. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)
Baseball is a sport of stereotypes. The format might have changed — an overload of interleague games and wild-card playoff teams, the designated hitter — plus an overabundance of technology and sabermetrics drivel. But the basics of the game remain the same as when Abner Doubleday, or some other mid-19th century dude, sketched out the rules.
A batter still tries to hit a round sphere with the round meat of a bat, and the pitcher still tries to get the hitter to whiff, pop up or hit a skimmer to the shortstop. The hit-and-run remains a tactic of skill and teamwork, and occasionally you might see a batter who knows how to bunt.
And in baseball, the manager is supposed to be the cutout image of John J. McGraw or Casey Stengel. Lots of them through the years have had pouched cheeks from chewing Red Man tobacco.
Bobby Cox and Tony LaRussa both pretty much fit that stereotype. And both are due to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown this summer.
Ruddy. Leathery skin. Somewhat tempestuous. Baseball vagabonds.
Sparky Anderson and Jim Leyland were managers in the same mold.
This stereotype, cookie-cutter image stuff is what makes Brad Ausmus so distinctive.
A different Ausmus
Ausmus essentially is none of the above. He is described by the journalists who travel with the Tigers as being “cool.” And he is — while at the same time he might be regarded as old (somewhat) school.
But in his couple of months of managing the Tigers, Ausmus seems to be operating with a different personality than he did as a player. Back then, during his two occasions with the Tigers, he seemed to be an aloof guy. He never seemed to be much of a conversationalist. He was quiet, not unfriendly, but reserved.
He was not much for nonsense.
And you could sense a bit of swagger.
We knew that he was super intelligent. Not because he graduated from Dartmouth, an Ivy Leaguer. All Ivy League graduates are not wizards (me as a classic example). But because Brad exuded brilliance whenever he did talk to me or any other reporter.
Ausmus was a ballplayer. But more than that. He knew the game. He played with intelligence. He could perform. He adhered to the code.
He had an admirable playing career. And after two days of observation as the Tigers played in Los Angeles this past week, I believe he is going to have a more than admirable managerial career.
Among the individuals who were surprised when Dave Dombrowski hired him to manage the Tigers was Brad Ausmus himself.
“I went in without having any experience when I talked to Dave,” Ausmus told a couple of us journalists in Los Angeles. “I thought they were looking for a guy with experience.”
This is the archaic system of major league ballclubs tending to signed recycled managers. Guys who had managed other clubs either successfully or with a trifle of success. The stereotypical guys with leather skins — Cox and LaRussa; Sparky, Mayo Smith, Ralph Houk, Leyland, Phil Garner and Charley Dressen in Detroit; Joe Torre; Dick Williams; Frank Robinson; Buck Showalter; Bruce Bochy; Terry Francona; Lloyd McClendon; Dusty Baker; and on and on.
And back to the original, John J. McGraw, manager of the Baltimore Orioles and New York Giants at the turn of the century — from the 1800s into the 1900s.
We’ve seen, so far, that Ausmus does not get flustered; he had that persona as a player, too.
He has managed to manage the daily grill sessions with the sports journalists — a basic requirement for a manager — with plenty of conversation. And even with some mirth.
There is a scenario that I remember of Ausmus, the player, other than catching Randy Johnson’s steam-engine pitches in Houston. This involves the code that controls the behavior of the athletes on the field.
On this afternoon the Tigers’ pitcher, identity forgotten, hit a batter on the other side with a quite forceful pitch. It likely was deliberate. Now, in the American League parks the pitchers do not bat. So the catcher becomes the target for the retaliation pitch.
The victim would be Brad Ausmus, and everybody at Comerica Park that day knew it. Brad took the inside pitch of the back of his shoulder without flinching. Then without even a glance at the pitcher who had hit him, he trotted down to first base.
There could have been a brawl that afternoon; Ausmus’ calm prevented one.
The impression of Brad Ausmus the manager is he will be calm almost all of the time, regardless of the tricky and demanding situations.
I’m not particularly cool — based on a couple of viewings — with the ballclub Ausmus was given. The starting pitching has been short of predictions; the bullpen offers expected adventures; and the bottom of the batting order doesn’t scare any opposing pitchers. The 2014 version of the Tigers should win their division; none of the rival clubs has much muscle. But this year’s ballclub is a bit short of Jim Leyland’s Tigers of 2012 and 2013 — only an opinion.
Jerry Green is a retired Detroit News sportswriter. Read his web-exclusive column Sundays at detroitnews.com.