Lakeland, Fla. – Brad Ausmus calls it Clubhouse-onomics.
“It’s like Reaganomics, it trickles down,” he said. “If you have good veterans, it will trickle down to the new players, to the new faces and to the young players who are coming up. Trickle-down Clubhouse-onomics.”
His theory of clubhouse stability was tested mightily last season. Torii Hunter, the clubhouse kingpin in 2013 and 2014, was gone. The season went quickly down the drain. Key players were injured or struggled. Star players David Price and Yoenis Cespedes were dealt at the deadline. Ausmus was fired by the media one day in September then given a stay of execution by Al Avila a week later.
For sure the Tigers clubhouse was a dour place the last two months of the season. But somehow it didn’t collapse. If there were holes in the foundation, they were quickly caulked. And night after night, win or lose, the team continued to play hard.
“We did miss Torii, but we had the guys (to lead),” Ausmus said. “I just think at some point last year the wheels came off. Sometimes it’s tough to tighten the lug nuts when the wheels are falling off.
“But the guys held it together in the sense that they continued to play hard. But when we made trades at the deadline, it sucks the air out of you.”
Credit the Tigers’ leadership group – Ian Kinsler, Victor Martinez, Justin Verlander and, though not a veteran, James McCann. Miguel Cabrera, certainly, is a key member of the team’s leadership council, but he was dealing with injury issues and away from the team for six weeks.
“After we made the trades, I talked to Kins and Victor,” Ausmus said. “I said we needed to keep these guys on track and they were on board 100 percent. Credit to our veterans. They play the right way and it forces younger players to play the right way.”
“There was no internal malaise,” Ausmus said. “When the games started, these guys played the proper way. They never stopped fighting or trying to win. The difference is, after the trade deadline it was not as fun to come to the field. We still played the game the right way, still played to win, it’s just not as fun.
“You are slipping down the standings, kind of what you expected to happen after the trades happened.”
But that was then. As Ausmus said -- live it, learn it and move on. And as the Tigers get ready to attack a new season with nine new players, the positive takeaway from 2015 is that Ausmus’ Clubhouse-onomic structure is sound.
“Yeah, I think it’s a great sign (that the team held it together last season),” Verlander said. “You don’t ever want to go through that type of adversity, but coming out the other side, we are probably stronger for it.”
Verlander, Ausmus agreed, has taken on more of a mentoring role to some of the young Tigers arms, notably Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd.
“Everyone talks about growing as a player in terms of experience and physical skill,” Ausmus said. “Sometimes you grow as a player in the clubhouse as well. You realize you can take on a greater role in the team’s success, not only between the lines but in the clubhouse.”
Verlander shrugged that off. He said he’s always made himself available to younger players, there are just more young pitchers around these days.
“It comes with the territory when you’ve been around for a while,” he said. “You’ve experienced a lot, you’ve been through the ups and downs. Whatever they need to work on or are working on, I’ve probably gone through it at some point.”
He didn’t, though, downplay his role in maintaining the solidarity of the clubhouse, last year or this year.
“Fracturing can start when you start placing blame instead of looking at yourself,” Verlander said. “Nobody in here does that.”
But as we know, everything is convivial in the spring. It’s like walking into a newly-built home for the first time. There’s no dirt on the floor or dust on the shelves. As Cabrera said, “We are undefeated, man.” The true test of the Tigers Clubhouse-onomics lies ahead.
“A team shows its true colors when things aren’t going well,” Ausmus said.
Lived it and presumably learned it.