EARNING THOSE FIRST STRIPES

By:  Holly Horning

Sometimes it’s the story within the story that gives us all a better idea of the bigger picture. The case in point was a profile piece I was reading the other week about Miguel Cabrera’s influence on the team.

The story was focused on interviews with other Tigers and their interactions with Miggy. In one, James McCann described his first at-bat at the club level back in 2014. An at-bat that resulted from Miggy walking over to Brad Ausmus and telling him that McCann would be taking his place in the lineup as a pinch-hitter.

It was not a request. It was a statement from Miggy;  and Brad, the manager, complied.

The game in question was in September 2014, a year in which the Tigers barely beat out KC for the division title by 1 game. While we may not know the exact situation of the game in question, the fact that the manager was taking orders from one of his players, is an eye-opener.

But can we completely blame Brad for this move? A brand new manager with whom a number of these Tigers know him best as a player? A guy who came in with absolutely no earned credibility as a manager? Shouldn’t this issue really reside with the man who hired him?

Did Dave Dombrowski really consider the possible problems that could happen when a rookie manager is signed to oversee and coordinate a team filled with veterans and star players? Guys with high-profile names, even higher salaries and roles within the team clearly defined?

Anytime a new guy comes in, he has to put his time in and earn his (Tiger) stripes. But if this is your very first rodeo, it’s going to be even harder and take longer. The odds were stacked against Brad from the beginning because it’s no secret that Miggy was known to be a forceful individual with only VMart as the guy who could keep him in check.

We saw other examples of players not wanting to accept Ausmus’ new role as leader of the team back in 2014. Most noticeably, Justin Verlander’s visible tirades, complete with swearing, when Brad tried to remove him from several games. And his infamous dugout trashing followed by the petulant at-bat and storming off the field.

Max Scherzer also had a few pouty moments that year, too.

In 2015, it was David Price’s turn when he left the game and no one knew he was gone until he was discovered in street clothes in the locker room. And in his last month with the Tigers, Price refused to look Ausmus in the eyes or shake his hand when he left the mound. It was telling when he repeatedly handed the game ball to Castellanos, instead of his manager.

And could VMart’s refusal to go on the DL last year when he was obviously in pain also be the result of another player not wanting to listen to his manager? Why did it have to take Mr. I to call a midnight meeting to get Martinez on the DL? I think we now know why.

Almost every year, we see examples of teams who don’t sync their players, management and Front Office with their direction and priorities. Teams who don’t ensure that their GMs are on the same page as their managers. Teams who don’t hire managers who can effectively inspire their players. Veteran managers with World Series experience who are hired for teams in rebuilding mode when they are used to working with stars. And also teams who hire inexperienced managers, or first-time managers to oversee teams with expensive, big name players and in “win now” mode.

Look no further than Matt Williams who was canned in Washington back in October. A first-time manager put in charge of an expensive team full of stars and an elderly owner who desperately wanted that World Series ring. A rookie manager who was expected to harness a team known for its infighting. A team filled with strong personalities like Jonathan Papelbon, Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth who ended up eating him alive. Should we be surprised?

But unlike Williams, there have been some visible signs this year that Brad is gaining more respect from his players. And that he is becoming more confident about how to manage them.

There were stories about how he made it very clear to Anibal Sanchez about the number of pitches he was to throw in his recovery – and not to exceed them. He laid out a very clear plan for Victor Martinez to follow in his recovery from a pulled hamstring. A plan that Victor initially fought but Ausmus refused to back down.

And in one of JV’s last starts in spring training, Brad made it very clear that JV was to only bunt and not run. Justin countered with how this strategy would be seen, and booed, but Brad held tight. And JV obeyed – even laughing at how he unsuccessfully tried to get Ausmus to change his mind.

And this is good news. While many of us have been critical of Brad’s skills, it is important that we recognize the positive when it happens.

It is a sign of progress. A sign that Brad is evolving. Let’s welcome every little bit that we see.

10 thoughts on “EARNING THOSE FIRST STRIPES

  1. Like many, I have had plenty of problems with Ausmus’ managing decisions. However, I thank Holly for pointing out the resistance he was encountering and also the firm decisions he has been making of late. These are instances I would not be aware of. I appreciate her bring as balanced a perspective to the table as possible!

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  2. DD took too much of a risk hiring an inexperienced manager to guide a team in a must win mood and piled up with so many super stars. The consequences are in everyone’s eyes, all well reported above, and not all Brad’s fault. When in September fans called for his head, Avila said he would be back in 2016. At the time, I guess the front office saw something that we fans just start to see now.

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  3. Holly, whenever I read the comment sections for Tiger articles, it’s easy to find posters who bash you for your criticism of Ausmus. They incorrectly claim that you have a vendetta against Brad for continuing to point out his (obvious) failings. Not sure if I could convince them to read TT, but it would be wonderful for them to see how balanced your observations & commentary are.

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  4. Not sure sitting Nick on Saturday after going 4 for 4 on Friday is a sign of evolution. Brad nipped it in the bud and, in my opinion, adversely affected the chemistry of the team. Four games into the season is no time to be worrying about getting subs some playing time when the starting lineup is in the process of gelling.

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    • Wow, great minds think alike. No way on my team do I sit a player after going 4-4. Let alone Nick, with his fragile psych. Tiger mgt. is the reason this kid has been jerked around since aririving. I just don’t see Brad ever aquirring enough stripes to remain a Tiger. Look forward to tomorrow’s article Holly.

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      • When Nick was pulled for a pinch runner on Friday, the camera caught him approaching the dugout with arms outstretched, both palms up, looking at Brad appearing to ask,”why”? Jerry, you are right, Brad is giving the guy a complex. At least it appears that way and thats no way to manage a baseball team.

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      • Jerking him around? what more do you want them to do for him? They’ve given Castellanos more chances to succeed than any young player in MLB the last 2 yrs. and sadly he’s rewarded them by posting the worst WAR of any FT AL player the past 2 yrs combined (over 1,000 PA). Most teams would never have given his this many chances. Hope it pays off but don’t blame Tigers if it doesn’t.

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  5. Just curious as to why the comments here are “limited to 4-5 sentences”? Can be difficult to have your opinion come across the way you intended it too with limited sentences. I think because of this it makes many (myself included) sound a bit more harsh at times. Just my two cents as I enjoy reading this site and think eliminating this rule would make it even better. Keep up the good work!!!!

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    • Hi, Willie – We’re often asked this question. It’s due to a number of reasons including the WordPress format, storage space and tech platform. We’re all used to the threads on newspaper sites but they have multi-million dollar operating sites that can hold all the material. As we continue to expand, we’ll continue to look into options. In the meantime, we look forward to as many people as possible being able to have their thoughts heard and continue the dialog. And we’d never think anyone’s comments sound harsh. 😉 Thanks for the question! – Holly

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