Apr 2, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus (7) during the game against the Kansas City Royals at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
The Society of Contempt for Jim Leyland danced a jig when Tigers manager Jim Leyland announced his retirement shortly after Detroit fell to the Red Sox in the 2013 ALCS. In the mind of its most ardent members, the Tigers failure to win it all could be put squarely on the shoulders of Leyland, who had angered these tortured fans for years with his curious lineups and head-scratching in-game decisions. Not to mention those post-game press conferences. Oh how they hated those. Stuffed into Leyland’s cramped and cluttered office, the media lobbed one softball question after another at the manager. Despite the timidity of the questions, Leyland usually responded gruffly and with either defiance or evasiveness. And often with his mouth full of that night’s dinner, a scrap of food sometimes escaping as he talked. It was a sign of the disrespect Leyland had for the press—and more importantly the fan.
Or at least that’s how members of TSCJL spin it. By the end, every Leyland decision was hyper analyzed and hyper criticized and nearly every loss attributable to one of his moves somewhere along the chain of events. Outside the ranks of the super hardcore haters, a growing number of fans had also just tired of Leyland and were ready for a change. Many pined for a manager who would bury forever the “Book” that Leyland, and most of cohorts for a generation, stubbornly clung to.
Enter Brad Ausmus, who nearly two weeks into the season has done the following:
1. Bring his closer into a tie game in the ninth
2. Bring his closer into a game to replace a pitcher sailing along because, hey, the guy is his closer, and he pitches the ninth inning when a save is on the line.
3. Stick with his closer even as he implodes
4. Continue to start a guy who historically can’t hit right-handers against right-handed pitching
5. Use teeny, tiny sample sizes to determine who plays and what the lineup will be
6. Leave the better fielding shortstop on the bench in the bottom of the 10th inning with a one-run lead
7. Continue to use a middle reliever who hasn’t been able to get anyone out for more than a year.
8. Tolerate a lack of fundamentals, such as sloppy defense and bad base running
10. Bring the infield in with a runner on third base and less than two outs in the first inning.
11. Scale up the base stealing attempts
Oct 12, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland congratulates pitcher Joaquin Benoit (53) after defeating the Boston Red Sox 1-0 in game one of the American League Championship Series baseball game at Fenway Park. The Detroit Tigers won 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Many of the above decisions bear a striking similarity to the old guy. Let’s examine some of the details. Contrary to popular belief, Leyland was not averse to bringing his closer into a tie game in the 9th, as Ausmus did in the first game of the season. Three times last year in the second half alone Leyland brought Benoit into a tie game in the ninth. As for the rest of the list, Leyland was regularly pilloried for most of the items 2-9. Ausmus apparently shares Leyland’s slavish devotion to the “closer” model, in all of its maddening iterations. Ausmus’ decision to start the left-handed hitter Tyler Collins against the lefty starter Jason Vargas was definitely Leylandesque in its reliance on small sample sizes. Fetishes for Phil Coke and Don Kelly continue unabated as well. And remember how often some in the TSCJL crowd blamed the Tigers’ sloppy play, in the field and on the basepaths, on Leyland’s alleged inattention to the details and fundamentals. Apparently Ausmus suffers from the same indifference.
Ausmus and Leyland do part ways on the last two items. Pulling the infield in early and the running thing. Leyland rarely did either. Then again, can you really blame the former manager for putting a noose around the running game given the roster of plodders he had? That was the smart thing to do.
In all, based on the very early returns, it seems fair to evoke the famous line from “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by the Who and the title of this piece. Because, really, the differences between Leyland and Ausmus appear fairly minor at this point. The big difference is that the old boss would be getting barbequed by the fans for transgressions 2-9. The howls surrounding the decisions of the new boss have been, for the most part, very limited. Talk radio seems more interested in aiming its barbs at another guy who’s been around a while, Dave Dombrowski
Of course it’s early and Ausmus will eventually hear his share of criticism. It’s also notable that the new manager has shown much less interest in bunting and the hit-and-run. If this holds, that will definitely be a big step away from the “Book” and the former manager. Oh, and there is one other big, big change: press conferences are held in the press conference room, far, far away from that night’s dinner.