On the weekend the Detroit Tigers would likely surrender the season, they chose to save one piece of it.
Brad Ausmus will return as skipper next year.
Al Avila, the new general manager, announced it Saturday, before a game that officially eliminated Detroit from the postseason, ruining the night for scooping media everywhere (including this news organization) who weeks ago reported that the franchise intended to fire Ausmus after the season.
Either someone changed his mind, or someone made a case, or someone was wrong in the first place. It doesn’t matter. Nothing was official until the Tigers announced it. They announced it. Ausmus stays.
“I’m happy to be back for sure,” Ausmus told the media before Saturday’s game.
And if you ask me, it’s the right move.
Look, when a talented team disappoints, it’s either your roster or your manager. It’s rarely both. If the Tigers decided that Dave Dombrowski’s maneuvers were so poorly chosen that he needed to go, then you blame the talent. And you bring in a new guy, as the Tigers did.
But if the talent was wrong, then what’s the manager supposed to do about it? Especially when top guys are injured and you strip him of the best players just before the trading deadline. If you have any doubt how much David Price and Yoenis Cespedes can mean to a team, take a look at the first-place Blue Jays and first-place Mets, who should be sending the Tigers hand-embroidered thank-you notes.
The Tigers were two games under .500 when the trade deadline expired July 31. They are 10 under after Saturday night’s loss. Some might argue that’s holding a ship together pretty well, considering the loss of talent, influx of young players and general malaise that drapes a team that knows it doesn’t stand a chance.
“I believe Brad has the talent, the know-how, to lead and mentor the young players that are on this team,” Avila told the media Saturday. “They’ve shown great improvement, guys like James McCann, (Nick) Castellanos, Anthony Gose, these guys have improved under Brad and his staff. We got a lot of pitchers also, that have improved. He also had the respect and the backing of the veteran players on this team.
“So, that combination to me, tells me that Brad is the right man to lead this team into next year.”
Roster was hurting
The fact is, this season ceased to be about Brad Ausmus the moment Max Scherzer signed with the Washington Nationals in January. No matter how Dombrowski sung the praises of pitching newcomers (Shane Greene, Alfredo Simon, etc.), the Tigers were not going to be as good without Scherzer, one of the best in the game.
Then Justin Verlander began the year on the DL. He didn’t pitch until June, and clearly wasn’t the same force he’d once been. Scherzer and Verlander had 33 wins and 426 innings between them last year. This year, if he’s lucky, Verlander might have six wins and 136 innings.
That’s a heck of a drop-off.
Last season — Ausmus’ first —Miguel Cabrera missed a total of three games. This year he’s already missed 39.
That’s a huge factor.
Last year, the clubhouse had a Torii Hunter for veteran attitude when things got rocky, and a surging Victor Martinez for the same. This year, Hunter was gone, Martinez missed about as many games as Cabrera, and since the trading deadline it has been a much younger room, unaccustomed to riding out failures.
That’s a big factor.
“It’s easy when things are going good to just say hey, things are going good, and some of the things that should happen that don’t, maybe you ignore it,” Avila said. “…When things are going bad and the (bleep) hits the fan … that’s when the real inner person comes out. And (Ausmus) has shown me that he is calm, cool and collected and has continued the course, continued working through all kinds of stupid (bleep) that’s been going out there. And that’s what has impressed me.”
To sum that up, Ausmus can handle the (bleep).
No manager is perfect
Now this news will not be taken well by a mass of Tigers fans, particularly those who post on the Internet. They will point to baserunning gaffes, fielding gaffes and, of course, the lifting of pitchers too soon or too late as screaming reasons why Ausmus should go.
The thing is, not a single manager in 30 years since I’ve covered the Tigers hasn’t had the same thing said about him. Sparky Anderson was lambasted for his handling of pitchers and his reticence to use young players. Jim Leyland was blasted for his handling of pitchers and his dedication to certain guys whose performance didn’t warrant it.
As for the execution mistakes? Avila had an explanation: “We’ve had players come up from Toledo that have not had good seasons in Toledo. … So we’re force-feeding here. As much teaching as you can possibly do, some of these guys are going to make some mistakes.”
Hey, it’s not that Ausmus has done nothing wrong. But in less than two full seasons, he hasn’t done enough to be fired. Not in my opinion. He took his first team to 90 wins and the playoffs. His second underachieved greatly. You add that up, it says, “Let’s see what happens next.” Not, “This guy stinks.”
He stays. And we’ll get to see what Avila can do with a roster, and what Ausmus can do with that roster, and what both of them do with the young players that came over in the trade deadline deals.
Next year, if the Tigers are in last place in their division in September, I doubt things will stay the same. But for now, they do.
No matter what was previously reported.
“Mr. Ilitch left it up to me, and I made the decision,” Avila said. “I called him (and) I said, ‘Mr. Ilitch, I’m going to keep Brad Ausmus.’ He said, ‘God bless you, move forward.’ “
Which is what you have to do, even when the season has gone backward.
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at mitchalbom.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/mitch-albom.