Henning: Tigers had concerns about Chris Bosio before he was fired

By Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Chris Bosio

Toronto – Knocking at the Tigers front office’s door this week, hoping to extract details on Chris Bosio’s firing, has been futile. The Tigers are fearful, or perhaps they expect, Bosio will sue after they fired him Wednesday for “insensitive comments” to a Tigers employee.

And so a standard, in-house gag order has been the decree from Tigers attorneys, and it’s been followed religiously – by everyone from general manager Al Avila to the clubhouse attendant who was the target of Bosio’s remarks, which were racist in nature, as reported Friday in a story by The Athletic.

Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire was following orders Friday as the Tigers pulled into Rogers Centre for a long weekend and four games against the Blue Jays.

“I’m not gonna say any comment on all of this,” Gardenhire explained as follow-up questions arrived, in step with a story that’s not immediately going away. “It doesn’t make any sense for me to make any statements.”

But a more complete picture of Bosio’s time in Detroit has been described by a person familiar with the team’s daily business.

More: Tigers staff moving on post-Chris Bosio, back to a five-man rotation

Bosio had been a problem since the start of spring training, not because of any serious flaws on the pitching or tutorial side, but because of the occasionally abusive way in which he treated people.

Although pitchers generally liked his approach and his style, it was his demeanor outside of a narrow pitching construct that had made him increasingly a problem, particularly with fellow coaches who disliked him, the source told The Detroit News.

The source requested anonymity because of concerns about team relations.

Tigers staffers concealed this for obvious reasons. Bosio had a two-year contract with the Tigers. Pitchers who are loath to come down on a coach had also responded to him – early on, anyway.

That seemed to change in recent days and weeks as some pitchers and players grew upset with Bosio’s pitch-to-contact approach that is now being converted to a throw-strikes decree being applied by new pitching coach Rick Anderson.  

The internal chafing at Bosio’s ways was absorbed until Bosio, according to The Athletic, called a clubhouse attendant a “monkey” during a Monday night postgame rant and later refused to apologize.

The club’s decision to fire Bosio was not a timely and convenient way, the source said, to jettison a pitching coach amid a miserable June slide that Friday saw the Tigers stuck with a nine-game losing streak.

The severity of Monday night’s language and a refusal to apologize led to a Wednesday meeting in Gardenhire’s office where Avila, in company with assistant GM and legal counsel, John Westhoff, told Bosio he was finished.

Chris Bosio

Why the Tigers ran into troubles with Bosio that hadn’t previously surfaced, at least publicly, during his six previous years with the Cubs remains a mystery.

It was the Tigers’ front office, not Gardenhire, which pursued Bosio as the Tigers got busy hiring a new manager and staff following Brad Ausmus’ departure.

There was no reason cited when the Cubs offered Bosio his freedom at the end of last season at the behest of Cubs manager Joe Maddon. But his run there had been, on balance, a good one, capped by a World Series parade in 2016. His relationship with the Cubs had lasted six years.

More: The Detroit News' 2018 Detroit Tigers midseason grades

Maddon was asked Wednesday night about Bosio’s firing.

“It’s sad, very sad,” Maddon said. “It’s tough. Feel bad for him and his family.”

Told about the reason for Bosio’s dismissal, Maddon said:

“I’m not privy to (details of the incident). He did a lot of great work for us so many years. That’s a tough situation to be in. That’s potentially a career-ending situation.”

Maddon added, speaking of Bosio’s years with the Cubs: “There were difficult conversations, but we didn’t have that (abusive remarks) issue.”Gardenhire explained Friday that he knew Bosio only casually ahead of his move to Detroit. He said he had not spoken with Bosio since Wednesday’s meeting.

Tigers players were told of Bosio’s firing, as was reported, Wednesday afternoon and were ordered to “be careful what you say,” which were instructions in line with a team that seems certain it will be hearing from Bosio’s attorney.

Ron Gardenhire

But there will be no fracture in the clubhouse, at least in Gardenhire’s view.

“Sure it could,” he said, “but I don’t think it will. I think this is a group out here that’s got to keep playing.

“Yes, it’s a distraction because of everything going on. But we’ll just try and keep it to baseball.”

Gardenhire was asked about Wednesday’s official Tigers words, which included the sentence, “We have zero tolerance for this type of behavior.”

Was this a new sense of social justice in a game not always tied to more advanced thoughts and practices?

A manager who was Twins skipper for 13 seasons before he was hired in Detroit said, “I think it’s been there” but that a new consciousness had arrived within baseball, as it has throughout America with the “me too” mobilization and ongoing dialogue about race and sexual orientation.

Gardenhire said he thought the Tigers had handled Bosio’s situation appropriately when they said “they weren’t going to stand for this anymore.”

And that meshed with a manager’s thoughts.

“It’s overdue,” he said. “All people want to be treated with respect.”