By: Holly Horning
Last week, I wrote a blog addressing the Tigers’ proclivity for collecting former managers. https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2016/01/28/never-can-say-goodbye/
So why am I continuing this discussion? It’s because I can’t shake the gut feeling that Kirk Gibson’s profile will be rising within the Tigers organization. And readers have wondered, too – including Jerry N. – who asked us to address the Tigers/Gibson connection.
My radar kicks in whenever I start to see a pattern. And the news about Gibby has been building both in content and frequency. First, it was the news that he interviewed for the Dodgers’ managerial job. Then, his contract renewal and increased presence for Fox Sports. And don’t forget, the Tigers asked for his input before signing Justin Upton.
It was no coincidence that shortly afterwards, multiple news sources started publishing in-depth articles with Kirk about his health diagnosis and improving energy and focus. Often, these stories all hit at once because the public relations people are reaching out to the media as the first step in building a solid case for acceptance.
The groundwork reports were generated in order to prepare the public for the news that Gibby would be returning to the Tigers during spring training to coach base running. All done in this specific order to neutralize and quickly dismiss the expected fears regarding his health that would inevitably appear in social media forums.
So could this coaching job be a trial run for Gibby? Possibly. A short-term solution for him, and the Tigers, to gauge his energy level and test his physical stamina. Also a way for him to get to know the players better by working with them for 2 months. But the bigger question surrounds what role he may eventually take with the Tigers down the road.
Al Avila has shown us so far that he’s a fair and thoughtful man in his new job. Don’t expect him to dismiss Brad quickly unless the bottom starts to fall out. And when and if this happens, Brad won’t be “fired” – he’ll be “reassigned”.
Afterall, the Tigers are loath to use the “f-word.” It’s also the new trend in business. To “fire” is a strong word and often dangerous move for any employer. Instead, managers are “moved”, “reassigned”, “released to pursue other opportunities” or even “promoted” to other departments.
Managers and coaches like Leyland and Jones unexpectantly “retire”. Even Dave Dombrowski was “released”, not fired, from his contract. “Firing” brings unnecessary and negative attention to your organization. When in doubt, use a neutral term that discourages excessive analysis and buzz.
We’ve seen a series of moves that potentially indicate Avila is thinking ahead and preparing for a worst-case scenario. For each of the past 2 years, the Tigers have brought on board 2 former MLB managers. Just like Noah and his Ark – pairs of them. Leyland and Tram. Last year, Gibby and Lloyd. A collection now boasting a half-dozen.
You have to ask why specifically former managers and not former players or coaches with other areas of expertise are the ones who came onboard.
Could it be that Al is building an interim nucleus just in case? Guys who are familiar with the players and have managerial/coaching experience who can take over in the short-term until the right candidate comes along?
Let’s remember that Ausmus is going into his lame duck year. Most teams renew managerial contracts before the All-Star break because it shows that they believe strongly in their manager. And if the new contract isn’t there, the players become less likely to buy in. Just ask Boston and LA what happened when they didn’t renew their managers’ contracts on a timely basis. Clubhouse chaos and severe drops in performance were the result.
Taking this idea further, if the manager goes, then some or all of the coaches will probably leave as well. This means that the Tigers will need men who can step in, already experienced and possessing a familiarity of the guys who make up the team. An added bonus if they have previously worked together. They will need as much of a smooth and seamless transition as possible.
Gibby will get to know the players better this month. Tram has already worked with them (he even has a locker in the clubhouse) and Lloyd knows over half the current 25-man roster. It’s not too far-fetched to believe that McClendon could become the interim manager with Tram as his bench coach and Gibby as third-base coach should the Tigers be forced to make a move.
While stats don’t readily support AAA managers becoming MLB managers, there is ample evidence that MLB teams call up AAA managers to take over on an interim basis. We saw it as recently as last year. And reports state that the players, Mr. I and upper management really like Lloyd. And in McClendon’s case, he has experience managing 2 MLB teams.
No matter how likely or unlikely you view this possible scenario, you have to return to the reason for why the Tigers are collecting this specific group of former employees. You have to put yourself in Brad’s shoes and see that everywhere you turn, there is an increasing flock of Managers Past surrounding you.
If you saw this happening in any business, what would you think? Gibby, Tram and McClendon – they aren’t just coaches. They appear to be looking like a queue.