'Country strong' Marcus Thames interviews for Tigers' managerial opening
Detroit — The Tigers are considering a familiar face for their managerial opening.
Marcus Thames, the hitting coach for the New York Yankees who slugged 99 home runs while playing for Detroit from 2004-09, has met at least twice in the last week with Tigers brass over Zoom, according to a source familiar with the team's search to replace Ron Gardenhire.
The source spoke to The News on condition of anonymity because the Tigers are not publicly revealing developments in their manager search.
Tigers general manager Al Avila isn't commenting on the Tigers' search or identifying any candidates publicly, citing the "sensitivity" of the situation. Thames doesn't have an agent.
Thames, 43, is the first known candidate to have talked to the Tigers front office. He was available to interview after the Yankees were eliminated by the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL playoffs on Friday night.
They also are believed to be considering high-profile managers A.J. Hinch and Alex Cora, who remain suspended by Major League Baseball until after the conclusion of the World Series for their roles in the cheating, sign-stealing scandal that rocked the game last winter. Both Hinch, a former Tigers catcher, and Cora have won World Series championships, in Houston and Boston respectively, but figure to have multiple opportunities, with the Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox also looking for new managers. The White Sox also plan to interview Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa, USA Today reported.
Thames has coached in the Yankees system since 2013, with one year each as hitting coach at Single A, Double A and Triple A. In 2016, he was named the Yankees' assistant hitting coach, and in 2018, he was promoted to the head hitting coach.
He played in the major leagues from 2002-11, mostly with the Tigers. He also had two brief stints with his original team, the Yankees, and short stays with the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Dodgers. He was a 30th-round draft pick by the Yankees in 1996.
For his career, he had 115 home runs and 301 RBIs, and played mostly left field and designated hitter. Twice, in 2006 and 2008 with the Tigers, he had more than 20 home runs. His power was the origin of former TV broadcaster Rod Allen's "country strong" catchphrase.
Thames was pretty much universally well-liked in Detroit, and is cited as a good communicator. On this year's Yankees team, DJ LeMahieu (Birmingham Brother Rice) won his second batting title after hitting .364, and Luke Voit led the majors with 22 home runs.
While Thames doesn't have managerial experience, he has far more experience in the dugout than the last Tigers first-time manager, Brad Ausmus, who was in Detroit from 2014-17. Avila has previously said he will consider anybody with coaching experience, even if they don't have managerial experience.
There have been reports the Tigers also plan to consider another former Tiger, Don Kelly, 40, who is the bench coach of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Other former Tigers on the radar include George Lombard, 45, the first-base coach for the Dodgers, and Vance Wilson, 47, the third-base coach for the Kansas City Royals.
Gardenhire, 62, managed the Tigers for nearly three full seasons, retiring late in the shortened 2020 season, citing health concerns. Lloyd McClendon is the interim manager, and also is expected to be a candidate for the full-time job. He also was a candidate after Jim Leyland retired and after Ausmus was fired.