MANAGERIAL MENTALITIES

By: Holly Horning

Despite the occasional wins that permeate the month of August, this is the time now, unfortunately, where reality and the day of reckoning become closer and more significant. Hope and optimism are lessening with each and every day the Tigers drop lower – or don’t gain ground – in the standings and wild card consideration.

And on a day where I’d much rather talk about JV and his marvelous performance stats, or Upton’s two HRs, a bigger – and more permanent – story has reared its head.

A story that followed an earlier story. A story that put the idea of competition at the forefront of discussion. A story that brings concern to the underlying corporate culture of the guys in the Tigers’ dugout – and maybe elsewhere in the organization. A story that makes us wonder what the team-think is.

A story that actually started with another team.

But before we can discuss that recent event – one that got the media’s attention – we need to connect it to the Tigers. If you read our Saturday blog, one of the week’s (and year’s) most alarming quotes came from Brad Ausmus who said after a string of losses and a losing August record:

Really, I don’t look at the standings that often. I try to win on a daily basis…. I couldn’t even tell you how many games we are behind Cleveland. I know the gap’s widened a little bit because we haven’t played well lately, but we’ve got 40-something games. I’ll worry about it when we get a little closer.”

Several days after Brad was quoted, an interview with Indians’ manager, Terry Francona, noted that he keeps track of exactly where the Tigers are in the standings. In fact, his bench coach is in charge of updating him on the scores of games in which the Tigers are playing. And the info is passed along to the players as well who then push a little bit more if the Tigers are winning their game. Francona said that one of the team’s missions is to keep putting distance between first and second place.

This is also the same manager who pulled his starter in the first inning for pitching poorly and sent to the bullpen because Francona stated “We don’t have any games to just give away.”

The same manager who has one of the best win-loss records in baseball (even if you include the stint with the rebuilding Phillies) . Seven years of posting 90+ wins out of 11. Three years of just under 90 wins and 1 season with 81 wins. Two World Series and one of 5 managers to go undefeated in the World Series. And he is the only manager to have done it twice.

And he is also the manager who willingly left the Boston Red Sox, along with the entire Front Office including Theo Epstein, because ownership put profits above play by allowing their marketing department to have input regarding the players the team signed.

Don’t tell me managers don’t make a difference. That it’s entirely up to the players who all have the same levels of motivation on a daily basis. If that’s the case, then why do managers have a place in the Hall of Fame and why do they get paid seven figures?

All teams have leaders who set the tone and bring a philosophy with them. They encourage, they motivate. They also support players and kick butts when needed. And most importantly, they inspire. It is no coincidence that all six teams leading their divisions have managers who are known as true leaders within their industry.

Francona was voted by MLB players last year as one of the top 3 managers in the business. But outside of his resume, what really resonates about his quotes is the sense of urgency. Something that has been noticeably absent within the Tigers organization for years.

It’s not just Brad’s fault. Jim Leyland, for more than a couple of years, allowed his team to coast through September – and sometimes it cost them. A manager who ended up staying past his prime. And a GM who allowed it. The very same GM who had the chance to hire Terry Francona when he left the Red Sox and could have possibly duplicated a Sparky Anderson-for-Les Moss move.

The same GM who also didn’t see the team ageing and the signs that the best rotation in baseball would eventually be no more. The very same GM who hired a manager with absolutely no experience to coach a team with a window starting to close.

And let’s not forget an owner who gave his GM 14 years and 3 multi-year contracts along with one of the biggest payrolls in MLB. It finally took a permanent residence in the cellar to change his mind about the personnel he hired.

From the top on down, the Tigers don’t have this essential sense of urgency in any of their managerial levels. And that’s been one of the biggest problems. Really, in the end, we shouldn’t be surprised by Brad’s quote. You end up hiring those who have the same philosophy as the rest of the organization.

We also shouldn’t be shocked by the statement made by baseball’s elite who sadly acknowledged that the Tigers are close to being one of MLB’s handful of most elite dynasties to never have won a World Series.

And that’s what happens when you think you have all the time in the world to get the job done.

19 thoughts on “MANAGERIAL MENTALITIES

  1. The big surprise for me though is that Brad does not seem to have a good feel for the game situations as they develop. He often makes moves late or does not plan ahead, eg. relief pitchers not warming up. Surprising in that he has been around the game a long time.

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  2. Mr. Laid Back is 228-218 for a .511 win % average over 3 years as manager. Better than Gibby and Tram’s record. Of the 37 Tigers coachs, he is only 1 of 18 to have more wins than loses, and besides Leland the only coach to do that since Sparky. Unbelievably, if Avila fired him today, Dartmouth is one of the better coaches in our club’s history.

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      • Sparky Anderson inherited a team that was incredibly talented. For all the love he gets for winning a world series, he never developed anyone. With the talent he had, they should have won multiple American League if not World Series Championships.

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  3. The guy reminds me of someone who is simply putting in his time, and doesn’t really care about the outcome, or in layman’s terms, the quality of the product. Good work, interesting blog today.

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  4. Good Job Holly. I look for Tigers to finish a game or two either way of .500. Just as we called last March. So, Mr I will stick with Al for sure. Does Al admit mistake, or stick with Ausmus? Time is short for Miggy, VM, JV, Ian.

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  5. I’d swear you were at my house last night! “Don’t tell me managers don’t make a difference” were the same words spoken while discussing the standings. Your juxtaposition of the Francona/Ausmus interviews illustrates exactly what is needed & what is missing.

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  6. While I don’t disagree with your thesis, I think you mischaracterized Francona’s departure. Boston had just undergone a hideous late-season collapse at a time when their manager was strangely withdrawn and very possibly struggling with a prescription drug addiction. Whatever the sins of the Boston management, it was time for him to go.

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    • Hi, Max – I’t often hard to include all the details given length parameters. While Terry did have some issues (divorce), most of the blame was laid on Boston ownership. They hired outside marketing consultants to help with sagging ratings and the firm recommended that they hire “sex symbols” (and I’m not making this up!) and guys with “sizzle” like Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to raise viewership. It resulted in players they didn’t want, bad clubhouse chemistry and was met with disdain from both GM, Epstein and Francona who had a number of ugly meetings with the owners about their power being taken away. The biggest mistake the owners made was allowing Terry to become a lame duck manager which usually results in the clubhouse disintegrating and ownership infighting. The fact that Terry, Epstein and almost the entire front office left Boston is telling. An interesting story and the dysfunctional ownership issues still continue to this day. Thanks for continuing the conversation! – Holly

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      • Thanks for filling in the back story on Francona’s departure. I always felt he was unfairly implicated as the cause of the collapse. There are always two sides to a story & what you have written should fill in the blanks for those who still insist the blame is all his.

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  7. Spot on Holly. My prototype managers are Francona,bochy and Maddon. None would be a fit for tigers ivy league fundamentally lazy ‘were too cool to break a sweat- it’s beneath us’ mentality.

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      • Hi, Randall – Great question! The worst weren’t named, just merely not mentioned. There were 8 categories that evaluated best overall, leadership, best at using roster, tactician, handling a pitching staff, relating to players,creative, handling young players, etc.They named all the vote getters via percentage. And, ahem, Detroit was nowhere in the mix in any category. Thanks for keeping the conversation going! – Holly

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  8. But were it to materialize, this “bright future” would be one that Mr. I probably would not live to see. That might matter to him. If so, I don’t blame him.

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  9. Chirpped eary this am and KNEW I had to come back to read more of today’s great TT. I was not disappointed readers! It would take me MANY paragraphs for my opinions. You All know I hold know grudge with Mr. I or D, except for hiring Ausmus. Give me Captain Hook any day!

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  10. Great article. Our “manager” has made a least a negative difference of 4 to 5 games this season. With even a average manager, say a Gardenhire, we’d be 1 or 2 games out right now instead of 7.

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  11. Best Blog EVER Holly! Biggest mistake the Tigers ever made in not snapping up Francona after he left Boston. I also believe JL decide to come back for one more year just to make sure they wouldn’t. We “rue the day” as they say.

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  12. I have appreciated Holly’s multiple considerations of the “culture” of the Tigers. Adding to the lack of urgency, listening to Ausmus, he seems to have more of an acceptance of losing than a lust for winning. To be fair, he understands the long grind and the demands. His calming reassurance seems to be accompanied by a limited capacity to motivate the fires to win.

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