Brad Ausmus rides out first year as rookie manager

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — Brad Ausmus thought he knew what he was getting himself into it.

But, it turns out, he didn't.

"This season has been a little bit more of a roller coaster than any team I was on as a player," the Tigers manager said moments after his team clinched the American League Central Sunday. Joba Chamberlain had just doused him with champagne.

Ausmus, the longtime catcher in his first year managing, also was criticized far more than he ever was at a player — over everything from his early game bunting strategies, to batting Don Kelly sixth, to refusing to replace closer Joe Nathan with Joakim Soria.

There also even was an unfortunate slip of the tongue over domestic violence this summer, which earned him some negative nationwide headlines.

But in the end, he picked right up where long-time manager Jim Leyland left off — guiding the Tigers into the postseason.

Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers president and general manager, was impressed. Not that Dombrowski thinks Ausmus was perfect. Nobody is.

"This is the first time he's done it," said Dombrowski, the man who passed on an experienced candidate in Lloyd McClendon to hire the unproven Ausmus last fall. "I was with Tony La Russa (in Chicago) when he first broke in, they almost ran Tony out of town. You can ask him about it. I remember those days. And he's one of the best managers in history.

"You just have to remember, it's a growing (process). I hope I was better in Year 5 of my job than I was in my first year. I think he's going to be an outstanding manager."

Dombrowski admitted there were times this season when he wondered to himself why Ausmus was making a particular move during a game. According to Twitter, fans second-guessed the manager significantly more frequently.

Ausmus never has claimed to have all the answers.

And that's a trait Dombrowski really admires — that he's not afraid to ask questions, get opinions, and reach out to those who've done the job a lot longer. More times than Ausmus or Dombrowski can count, Ausmus picked up the phone to talk shop with Leyland.

"He's smart enough, where he's not a person that says, 'Oh, I know it all,' and doesn't reach out," Dombrowski said. "He reaches out."

Specifically, Dombrowski backed Ausmus' use of the bullpen — Why wouldn't he? Dombrowski built that bullpen, after all — and said he managed some big clubhouse personalities as well as anyone could have expected. Dombrowski also enjoys Ausmus' low-key demeanor and calmness.

Put it all together, and Dombrowski went so far as to say, if Ausmus wants a long managerial career, then he'll have one.

Many fans disagree with that, and anyway, that's a story for another day.

The story today, instead, is on the next few weeks, as Ausmus will try to help bring the Tigers their first world championship since 1984. If that happens, Ausmus would be the first rookie manager to win a World Series since Bob Brenly did it with the 2001 Diamondbacks.

For Ausmus, though, it's never been about Ausmus — and that's not changing now.

"It always seems to happen in baseball, water finds its levels," Ausmus said, trying his best to explain the perseverance of these Tigers, who, for a second consecutive year, won the division by just one game. "These guys are talented players."