Last October, the Boston Red Sox interviewed several candidates for their vacant managerial job. One of the names that got a lot of attention was Brad Ausmus, a former big league catcher who spent two stints with the Detroit Tigers and earned a reputation as a take-charge leader on the field.
Ausmus didn’t get the Red Sox job – it went to John Farrell, who was poached from Toronto. But Ausmus is sure to be on everyone’s short list for any managerial job that opens up in the foreseeable future. He currently draws a check as a special assistant to the San Diego Padres, another team he played for in his 18-year career in the major leagues.
As a player, Ausmus (like all catchers) had a bird’s eye view of the playing field, as the only man on his team facing out to the defensive set of his teammates. A catcher has been called a field general, and Ausmus was all of that in his career. He was awarded three Gold Gloves in his career and probably deserved a few more.
It takes something special for a player to last 18 years in the big leagues when they hit .251 and never top nine homers in a season. Ausmus had that something special – a knack for the defensive side of the game and a feel for handling a pitching staff. There was a reason he spent two stretches with both the Tigers and the Astros – teams missed him after he was gone.
In 1999, the handsome receiver was an All-Star for the woeful Tigers when he drove in 54 runs, hit those career-best nine homers, and even swiped 12 bases. All the while, Ausmus was one of the best defensive catchers in baseball this side of Pudge Rodriguez. Ausmus had a terrific throwing arm and was deadly accurate with his throws. He gave the Tigers a weapon behind the plate.
“He throws the ball on the bag as well as any catcher I’ve seen,” Detroit skipper Buddy Bell said.
As much as he had grittiness and physical ability, Ausmus had the brains to go with it. When he was drafted by the New York Yankees in 1987, instesd devoting all of his time to the sport, he enrolled at Dartmouth University, from which he earned a degree in Government. Later, when the Astros won the pennant in 2005, Ausmus became the first Ivy League catcher to appear in the World Series since Chief Meyers way back in 1916. As Ausmus explained though, his IQ was not always seen as a positive when he played.
“I feel like when they say I’m one of the smarter ballplayers, it’s just their way of saying I don’t hit very much,” he said.
That mental aptitude is another reason that Ausmus is coveted by many big league clubs. In an era when teams are hiring 30-something Ivy Leaguers with law degrees or PHD’s, Ausmus offers a rare package – baseball pedigree and the smarts. As a manager, Ausmus would command the respect of the players and bring a calculated mind to the office.
Seeing as how the Tigers twice acquired Ausmus and he was a popular player in the city, it makes sense that he may be on the team’s radar for when they have to replace Jim Leyland. It might seem like Smoky wants to manage forever, but the man will turn 69 years old this December. Baseball is a young man’s game, and old school managers are a dying breed. Even though Leyland is a players’ manager who receives a ton of respect from his stable, he will be replaced at some point. Once again, the skipper manages the 2013 season one-year contract, which means his future is always under speculation. Win the World Series and it would be a perfect time for Jimmy to bow out on top (ala Scotty Bowman), but lose and he might not be asked back.
For now, Ausmus awaits his chance for a job on the bench as a big league manager. He spent two successful stints with the Houston Astros, is well respected by his current employer the Padres, and is coveted by other organizations. But the Tigers might have an inside track to lure back on of their former players when the time is right to transition into a new era of leadership.