Paul: Shame on Tigers for leaving Ausmus in the dark

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit -- The Tigers probably deserved better results from Brad Ausmus.

But Ausmus, certainly, still deserved better treatment than what he’s received from the Tigers over the last 24 hours.

Well after Thursday night’s 7-5 loss to the Indians in Cleveland, Ausmus was ambushed with a barrage of texts from reporters inquiring about whether he will be fired at season’s end -- as multiple media outlets were reporting to be the case.

Ausmus couldn’t really comment.

That’s because nobody from the Tigers had told him anything, as he told my colleague, Chris McCosky, in a late-night text message.

If the reports are true that he's out -- and it's been widely speculated for weeks -- this is some bad form. Really bad.

And it’s not a good look for a new regime, led by new general manager Al Avila.

Look, it’s no surprise that Ausmus’ days are numbered. His biggest ally, Dave Dombrowski, is gone, fired early last month. His results have been underwhelming. And his in-game strategies, too often, have befuddled.

Owner Mike Ilitch, a frequent sight around Comerica Park these days with his health much better than in past years, wants that ring, more than ever, and his patience has run thin.

But for Ausmus to learn of his almost-assured canning from the press and not from his boss -- the same boss, in Avila, who said at his own introductory press conference last month, “I have all the confidence in him” -- is a second-rate act from a franchise that was nothing shy of first-rate under Dombrowski.

Tight lips

Dombrowski frustrated me, as he frustrated many of my peers, having treated Comerica Park like the Pentagon. It’s stunning the park wasn’t built with five sides.

Dombrowski kept things close to the vest, or turtleneck, if you will, in part because as president/CEO/general manager, he wanted to control every message from the team.

But, also, it was precisely to avoid embarrassing incidents like this.

If a reporter ever broke significant Tigers news, you knew it didn’t come from Dombrowski or his 20 closest lieutenants. He had no tolerance for leaks, or leakers.

When a player was getting traded, the player knew before the media.

And when a manager was getting fired, the manager knew before the media.

There was a protocol, and Dombrowski insisted it be followed to the letter -- which made scoops on the beat so rare, if you broke the news that a lefty reliever was getting a September callup, you felt like Bob Woodward.

Here’s the lengths Dombrowski went to control the message.

In September 2013, I made a few cold texts to a couple prospects I frequently kept in touch with, just to check in. Turned out, both outfielders were down in instructional league ball, where suspended Jhonny Peralta was working out in anticipation for his return from his 50-game PED suspension. Peralta was to come back as an outfielder, since the Tigers acquired his replacement at shortstop, Jose Iglesias, when the suspension was imminent.

So, I just happened to ask both the Tigers outfield prospects how Peralta was looking in his new role. They said nothing inflammatory -- just that he looked good, he looked like he’d played there for years, and he was asking the prospects for advice on positioning.

Great. Nice little feature story, I wrote it up, felt good about it, and that was that.

Each of those prospects would always returned my texts within an hour if not seconds, but the next five times I reached out, nothing. Radio silence.

It wasn’t even some grand scoop I had, but Dombrowski didn’t like he wasn’t controlling the message, and that two young kids were, albeit wildly harmlessly.

Uh-oh moments

Dombrowski wasn’t always so guarded. The first time he let his guard down in Detroit, though, was a disaster -- and it probably explains the way he is today.

In July 2002, 10 months after he took over as Tigers president and three months after he had fired manager Phil Garner and GM Randy Smith, Dombrowski took part in a private question-and-answer session with season-ticket holders.

Lots of questions focused on why he hadn’t yet started trading players.

“I don’t mean to disparage any of these guys, but put yourself in my shoes and say, ‘I want to change some of the faces,’” Dombrowski said that day. “I love Dean Palmer. He’s a great guy. If you can trade him tomorrow, give me a call. Save me $8.5 million in our budget next year. Damion Easley ... he’s still not hitting .200 ... and there’s $6.5 million for next year. We’re up to $15 (million).

“It’s not that easy just to snap your fingers and make some deals.”

Dombrowski also went after the likes of Matt Anderson, Bobby Higginson, etc., and it blew up in his face days after when his remarks -- recorded, to his chagrin -- were aired on local radio.

Dombrowski was greatly embarrassed, and told The News, “I have never had anything like this happen in my career.”

And in the remaining 13 years of his Tigers tenure, it never happened again.

This might be that wakeup moment for Avila, who’s different than Dombrowski in that he’s more laid-back, more open, more of a straight-shooter.

Those are qualities we, in the media, absolutely adore, especially after 14 years of fighting for scraps -- not scoops -- under Dombrowski.

One wonders if Avila, already, is going to change.

After all, the Tigers really blew it here.

Fire the man, but for God’s sakes, tell the man, too.