The Tigers have decided on an old arch-enemy as their new manager.
Ron Gardenhire, whose Twins teams for years tormented the Tigers, has been picked to replace Brad Ausmus and oversee what could be a bruising rebuilding era at Comerica Park, according to a source familiar with the two parties’ conversations who requested anonymity.
Gardenhire, who next week turns 60, has worked this season as Diamondbacks bench coach. He last managed in 2014 as the Twins receded following some lustrous years when six times under Gardenhire they won Central Division championships while delivering to the Tigers disappointment that fans, at times, regarded as demonic.
The Tigers had a lengthy list of early names as the process to replace Ausmus began in late September. They eventually pared the group to a collection of former managers and high-profile coaches, including Gardenhire.
Also interviewed were Fredi Gonzalez, a former Marlins and Braves manager; Mike Redmond, Rockies bench coach; Hensley Meulens, Giants hitting coach; Joe McEwing, White Sox bench coach; and two members of Ausmus’ staff, Lloyd McClendon and Omar Vizquel.
Two playoff bench coaches, Dave Martinez with the Cubs and Alex Cora with the Astros, were likewise on Detroit’s interview list.
Gardenhire was interviewed Wednesday by the Red Sox, who considered him as a replacement for John Farrell.
But the Tigers, who had earlier interviewed him during a three-hours-plus session, decided Thursday he was their man.
Gardenhire had been considered a good bet to join the Tigers in 2015 when it appeared Ausmus would be fired after Al Avila replaced Dave Dombrowski as Tigers general manager.
Avila, though, decided after deep personal debate to keep Ausmus as manager. Gardenhire by then had been out of baseball for an entire season and was hoping desperately to get another managerial job.
It was known that when he got word Ausmus was being retained, he said, simply and sincerely: “Good for Brad.”
For all the misery his Twins teams brought the Tigers, Gardenhire’s relationship with Detroit’s front office and opposing skippers was extraordinary.
Ausmus’ predecessor, Jim Leyland, said publicly and repeatedly that the manager he most respected was Gardenhire.
It was Gardenhire’s Twins that slipped into first place on the last day of the 2006 season, costing the Tigers a division title they had seemed certain to win.
Three years later, the Twins and Tigers tied for the division lead and met in a single-game playoff at the dastardly Metrodome, the scene of so many bitter Detroit defeats.
The Twins won, 6-5, in 12 innings, a postseason classic that, perhaps fittingly given their history, included controversy when home-plate umpire Randy Marsh missed Brandon Inge being hit by a pitch in what could have been a decisive inning for Detroit.
Gardenhire’s job with the Tigers will be a stewardship role as the Tigers head into a massive reconstruction job.
Detroit finished in a tie with the Giants for big-league baseball’s worst record in 2017, at 64-98. Expectations are for perhaps 100 or more losses in 2018 as the team continues to drop older, expensive players and re-seed a farm system that had been plundered during the Tigers’ earlier bonanza years. The Tigers won four consecutive division titles from 2011-14 and made it to the World Series in 2006 and 2012.
Detroit, though, is expected to steadily rise once a team’s tear-down is completed and fresh talent seeps into its ravaged farm tiers.
The Tigers will pick first overall in next June’s draft and could be in line for another first-overall turn in 2019. They have also been pumping youth into their minor-league chain by way of July and August trades that swapped expensive star talent such as Justin Verlander, J.D. Martinez, and Justin Upton for 10 young players they hope become part of a roster renaissance in Detroit.