By: Holly Horning
It’s readily apparent to all how much better the Tigers are as a team this year with Ron Gardenhire taking over as manager. The signs are everywhere from how they play, to their intensity and fight and to taking responsibility for their performances. Even the national media believes this team is playing above expectations.
But there is also the non-verbal aspect to consider. This is a happier team. You can see the comfortable body language in every player. You see it in their faces. You see it in the hugs the players – as well as the manager and coaches – give each other. They are a cozy bunch in the dugout, congregating in clusters and talking to each other unlike the “every man is an island” attitude we saw over the previous managerial reign.
But this just didn’t happen because a manager was replaced. This was planned. And it took skill to make it happen. This is a sign of a good, maybe even great, leader.
Communication. It’s what makes everything work well.
For the last 4 years, we never heard a player give a ringing endorsement of Brad Ausmus. We saw a group of men increasingly distant, unfocused and unhappy as time went by.
The local media, undoubtedly spurred by the media powers that be, went into overdrive to protect the former manager by constantly telling fans that Brad was good but always failing to include the supporting points. They called everyone who questioned Ausmus “shriekers”. Remember?
And it really started to remind us all about that fable involving the emperor and his new clothes.
It’s just too bad that the local media hasn’t communicated all the information with their readership over the past 4 years. If they had, the Tigers may have been forced to make some leadership changes that the players and many fans knew were way overdue.
But the signs this year are unmistakable. So much so that the media cannot deny it. They’ve done a complete 180 about how a manager doesn’t make a difference. Apparently now he does. Revisionist history at its finest.
We are now hearing more and more what it was like for the players under Ausmus. Information that was stifled over the past 4 years is now coming out in dribs and drabs. We saw a lot of it over those years but the local media chose to ignore it or churned out “all is well” press releases instead of articles.
We saw Justin Verlander going ballistic in the dugout and slamming equipment. Mound visits in which you could clearly read his lips. And JV could give any sailor a run for his money when it came to telling his manager how unhappy he was with him.
Of course, there was David Price and the infamous “no-show” to the mound to pitch another inning. It was blamed on “miscommunication” between the pitcher and his manager. Baseball history was made with that event.
There was the dugout battle between Rajai Davis and Brad in which Rajai got benched for successfully stealing a base because he saw an opportunity and took it without asking permission first. An episode that undoubtedly inspired him to later sign with Cleveland, rather than return to Detroit, for approximately the same amount of money.
We saw Max looking uncomfortable. And Miggy made what we already knew official. He also didn’t like Brad.
Within the past couple weeks, we’re learning more. Jose Iglesias in an interview recently expressed his happiness with Gardy because his manager allowed him to make decisions and take responsibility. And to grow as a player. He alluded to the fact that Brad always told him what to do. He frankly admitted that he felt very frustrated being so severely restricted in what he was able to do in the field or at the plate.
And then there’s Victor Martinez. A much different man this year than in 2017. He looks happy. He’s smiling a lot. And he’s once again having positive interactions with his teammates and they are returning the affection.
We didn’t like what Victor had become last year. We thought it was entitlement. Or a stubborn, ageing player who refused to see what he had become.
But VMart’s reason for being upset much of the year?
We learned from an interview, that VMart’s former manager didn’t confer with his players. Didn’t discuss strategies or visions with them. A man who said repeatedly, almost proudly, that he never went into the clubhouse.
And Victor, to his credit, didn’t throw his manager under the bus last year. But this year, he’s admitted that Brad never talked to him. That Ausmus never acknowledged any of Victor’s ideas or concerns.
The breaking point was the day Martinez came off the disabled list. Ausmus moved him in the lineup without having a conversation or even giving him a clue. VMart only found out he was moved when he saw the lineup card.
“I think at least I deserve to be called to the office and at least tell me,” Martinez said. “I have time enough to at least tell me know ahead. The only thing is I ask for respect. That’s why I respect everybody. You respect people to get respect back and that’s it. I’ve never asked for special treatment or nothing. I show up and play. That’s it. That was the difference.”
To say that Ron Gardenhire is on the opposite end of the spectrum is an understatement.
He meets with all of his players regularly. They discuss the vision, goals, ideas and possible changes that will be involved during the year. He explains why they need to happen. He gets their input and discusses their concerns. And every player interviewed has said they appreciate being allowed in on the dialog and being able to understand their exact role.
Almost to the man, they reported feeling as if they were equals in the conversation. They felt respected. And they appreciated that they would not be blindsided with moves they didn’t expect. And they felt comfortable knowing that decisions and moves were being made that respected the soul and integrity of each of them.
You see it now in the dugout. Players who come down the stairs and are usually greeted by their manager or another coach. A few words of wisdom, a lesson in the making, strong eye contact and all followed by a hug or a pat on the back. This never happened under the Ausmus regime.
You see players grouped around a coach or each other during a game and a discussion about what is happening on the field. It’s a cohesive bunch now.
Gardenhire will also tell you that he holds regular meetings with the entire team or groups of players. That he feels it is one of the most important aspects of a manager’s job.
A far cry from the stories of player-led meetings in the clubhouse over the past couple of years because there was no communication from their former manager, who was holed up in his office.
Gardy has simply established an optimum learning and working environment for his players which allows them the opportunity to focus on performance and be the best they can be. He has created a culture and a supportive network all through his emphasis on strong communication.
And that’s what good managers do.