Detroit — At the Detroit Tigers' annual luncheon with the Detroit Economic Club, where questions come from the audience and not the media — and the questions are pre-screened, to boot — you're rarely likely to get anything that's worth a headline.
So, thank you Nick Castellanos.
The Tigers' veteran right fielder was asked, on the surface, what seemed like a rather innocuous question: Compare your current manager, Ron Gardenhire, with your former manager, Brad Ausmus — who just so happens to be in town this week with his new team, the Los Angeles Angels.
Castellanos could've been diplomatic, or P.C., or bland, or whatever, and the audience would've still clapped. But that's not his style. He spoke his truth and seemed to take a little dig at Ausmus' communication style.
Castellanos said the following:
"Just different personalities. Brad's a little more, you know, analytical. He's very intelligent. Umm," Castellanos told the audience during the midday gathering at MotorCity Casino, before Wednesday night's game at Comerica Park. "But he could — sometimes he doesn't communicate his feelings very well. It's not his fault, you know. It's just how he is. But he's great at being the way that he is. Without question, he's a great manager. Gardy is a better communicator, you know, he's more available, and he relates to his players more, and he makes guys feel more comfortable, which I think is important when you have an inexperienced team. A team needs that. They need that comfort feelings from your skipper. It's important."
The comment drew some snickers from the DEC audience, which probably pleased Castellanos, who seems to like entertaining this well-to-do crowd. Four years ago, he got huge laughs when he called out former teammate J.D. Martinez for having alligator arms when it came to picking up a dinner tab.
Anyway, hours later at Comerica Park, The News approached Castellanos and asked him to clarify the Ausmus-Gardenhire comments, which he did — adding he loves Ausmus, and no one way of managing is right or wrong.
Ausmus, speaking to reporters before the second game of the series, also was asked about Castellanos' comments. He was prepared. Somebody had sent him a screenshot of Castellanos' DEC quote earlier.
"I'll take him at his word," said Ausmus, the Tigers manager from 2014-17. "I was with Nick for four years, I think very highly of Nick. If that was an issue, hopefully it's not anymore."
Ausmus added he had a 20-minute conversation with Castellanos on Wednesday.
Ausmus' communication chops were mentioned earlier this week by the Los Angeles Times, which profiled how Ausmus' embracing of analytics helped revive Justin Verlander's career — though Verlander, while crediting Ausmus, pointed out Ausmus often had poor timing in his offering suggestions or critiques.
Jim Price, the Tigers' longtime radio analyst who also handles pregame duties, also took a jab at Ausmus at the DEC luncheon, saying, "The manager we had the last four years, he didn't like the manager's show. And he let me know about it all the time."
Castellanos, later Wednesday, didn't want to make a big deal of his comments, but seemed grateful for the opportunity to expand on them.
He said it's simple.
"Gardenhire is more in the clubhouse, a lot more talking with people in here that, you know, need that pick-me-up and everything, where Brad didn't really do that as much," Castellanos said. "He stayed more in his office and things like that. They just have different styles.
"Not one is right, and not one is wrong. Both managers can run an extremely successful clubhouse and win a World Series with their styles. It's just two different ones."
Castellanos recalled one instance, early in his career. The Tigers were facing Indians ace Corey Kluber, and Castellanos had struck out in each of his first three at-bats.
Before his fourth at-bat, he was sitting on the dugout bench, bat in hand.
"And Brad walks over to the end and grabs water, and on his way back, he looks at me and he says, 'You might want to make contact your next at-bat or you might not be in the lineup tomorrow,'" Castellanos said. "He's joking, right? He's joking. He doesn't mean it. Some people might not understand that he's joking, and take it seriously, you know? Where Gardenhire is more like, sit down, put his arm around you, 'Hey, don't worry about it. Go get it done. Whatever.' It's more of a nurturing ... mentality.
"Not one is right and not one is wrong."
Castellanos doubled in that fourth at-bat, by the way.
Castellanos said he doesn't have a preference for either style — the introvert or the extrovert, the sarcastic, don't-waste-words skipper, or the grandfatherly type who doesn't mind popping into the clubhouse before or after a game, especially if he feels the mood needs to be lightened. (Castellanos also started five games under Jim Leyland, who was much more in the mold of Gardenhire.)
Castellanos did say perhaps Ausmus' style was better suited for the Tigers he inherited, the ones coming off three consecutive American League Central championships, with a fourth to come in Ausmus' first year, where maybe Gardenhire is the man to shepherd a group of relative youngsters.
"When you have a clubhouse that is full of veterans who know exactly what they're doing like Torii Hunter, Austin Jackson, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, when you have somebody like Brad that's cut-and-dry, 'This is what it is,' just put the lineup out and roll and 'I'm not gonna bull-(bleep) you,' that style can be productive," Castellanos said.
"I love Brad. I love Brad. He was the first manager, I've grown a lot from him, he's called me in his office and had hard conversations with me that I needed to hear as a younger player and I responded to them. But I also think, too, where having a lot of young players that don't have a lot of at-bats, who don't know themselves in the big leagues that are still worrying about, 'Can I play here, I want to stay here' ...
"There's a lot of internal pressures that a player can put on themselves when you have a clubhouse like that, and a style like Gardenhire can be beneficial."
Castellanos said Ausmus' demeanor or style didn't change much in his four seasons, even as the franchise shifted from a veteran team expected to compete for a World Series to a ballclub entering a long and probably painful rebuilding phase.
Nor would Castellanos have expected or wanted Ausmus to change.
"Brad is who is he, you know? You guys know him from dealing with him while he was here," Castellanos said. "Brad is who he is. There's a lot of people that really like Brad exactly the way he is. There's other people who say, 'Ahhh, he's kind of a prick,' or whatever. Those are their opinions of those people.
"I like Brad a lot. I think he's a great manager. I think Gardy's a great manager.
"It's not my job to pick who manages this team."