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.