For the past few weeks, a local sports talk host in my part of the world has been discussing how the Detroit Tigers have had a successful offseason with one exception: Brad Ausmus. Near the end of the 2015 season, it seemed that nearly every opinionated sports talk host and writer wanted Ausmus out of the Tigers organization. When Al Avila announced Ausmus’s return, a collective gasp could be heard all around Michigan.
If Al Avila and Mike Ilitch, as well as the players in the clubhouse, believe in Brad Ausmus, it is time for the fans and the media to do the same.
Running a baseball team is a complicated task with very little thanks. It is a bit like running a classroom. Every baseball player comes to the team with unique situations and the manager needs to know all of the details. Teachers need to do the same. When the players are injured and unable to play, the manager gets blamed for the team not performing well. This is similar to a teacher being blamed for students not performing well on tests when the kids were absent from the class. The human element of leading a group of diverse people is just too messy for perfection all of the time.
When Ausmus’s top “students” Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Victor Martinez, and Jose Iglesias were out for weeks and months, it was not Ausmus’s fault that the team performed poorly on the “test.” He was not out there swinging the bat, throwing the pitches, or missing the catches they need to make. On the flipside, when they do perform well, it is also not a reflection of him. No matter what the outcome of the game is, it is the team’s job to use their skills and win. It is his job to strategize and the team’s job to get it done.
These are grown men on the field and they have a job to do. He calls the plays, designs the lineup, and works with the bullpen, but the players have to execute. He gave the instruction and led the team, but the players did not perform as well as they could have. That is not the fault of the manager.
Ausmus had a nightmare of a season to manage in 2015 and he deserves to have a fresh start with those who continue to criticize him. No one can be perfect 100% of the time. Humans should be able to understand this. No one can honestly believe that Ausmus is encouraging his team to perform poorly. Ausmus was a professional athlete, and therefore, he is competitive. No one gets into the Major League without a highly competitive personality – there is simply too much competition to get there.
Sparky Anderson, the iconic former manager of the Tigers, once said: “Give me 25 guys on the last year of their contracts; I’ll win the pennant every year.” Ausmus is at the end of his three-year contract. He has Jim Leyland‘s crony Lloyd McClendon shouldering his way back into the Tigers organization with his new minor league managing gig with the Toledo Mud Hens. Ausmus has also been given a seriously upgraded team with top players who claim to be healthy. The pressure is on.
Ausmus has been given the keys to the kingdom for one more season. Teachers entering the third year of leading a classroom find themselves in a more confident position working with their students – especially after learning from the mistakes they made in the previous two years. They write better lesson plans, they handle unexpected situations with grace, they are just better at their jobs because of experience. Ausmus has been given a classroom full of spectacular students who want to do well on the test. As long as they come to class and do their work, the entire team should be able to have an effective season full of wins.
He has proven that he knows baseball and that the team respects him. He understands strategy and he knows the strengths and weaknesses of his players. If the top brass believes that Ausmus has the qualities to lead the team to success, then the fans and pundits should, too.