By: Will Burchfield
Al Avila talked to Brad Ausmus on Wednesday, a long, emotional conversation, to tell the Tigers manager something he had already accepted: His time as skipper is coming to an end.
“And quite frankly,” said Ausmus, sitting in the Tigers’ dugout on Friday afternoon, “I told him I completely understood.”
That wasn’t all.
“I told him if he had walked in and offered me a contract I probably wouldn’t have come back because this team, this organization is starting over. They need a new voice. And sometimes you have to be able to evaluate yourself,” Ausmus said. “When I look in the mirror I think it’s probably a good idea they did this, so I’m completely comfortable with it.”
Avila announced on Friday that the Tigers will not extend Ausmus’ contract beyond this season. The general manager felt the organization’s rebuild demanded a change at the manager position, and Ausmus agreed.
“I felt like this was the right move to make, and I wasn’t going to come back anyway,” said Ausmus, who went 312-325 over four seasons at the helm.
Ausmus said the moves the team made at the Aug. 31 trade deadline made it clear the organization was changing course. A new era, he knew, would likely usher in a new manager.
“After the (Justin) Verlander trade and the (Justin) Upton trade, I just felt like it was in complete rebuild mode and it probably would be prudent for Al to wipe the slate clean and bring a different voice in,” Ausmus said.
Ausmus took over for Jim Leyland in 2014, following a season in which the Tigers had gone to the ALCS. The team made the playoffs in Ausmus’ first year as skipper, but failed to qualify in each of the next three. Things cratered this year. The Tigers are 62-91 and in danger of finishing with the worst record in baseball.
“It wasn’t lack of effort, we just didn’t perform on the field,” Ausmus said. “The fact we didn’t win, I’ll shoulder that. I’m the manager, I’m the leader, I’ll take the blame.”
The Tigers will stick with Ausmus — and his coaching staff — for the remainder of the season. Having played in Detroit for three years and managed for four, he’ll wear the uniform with pride in his final days.
“Other than the Astros, I spent most of my career in baseball in a Tiger uniform. Seven seasons. I was an All-Star as a Tiger (in 1999). I take a lot of pride in the old English ‘D,’ and I walk away with that pride in tact,” said Ausmus.
Reflecting fondly on his time in Detroit, Ausmus, who tipped his cap to Tigers’ fans last week, said his biggest disappointment was failing to win a World Series for the late Mike Ilitch.
“People outside of Michigan and outside of Detroit don’t really get what’s happening in this city. This city is on the brink of a renaissance where this is going to be a place to be. I’ve enjoyed my time here,” said Ausmus, who made his home in Birmingham. “I wish, if nothing else, that we could have won a World Series. Quite frankly, I wish we had done it before Mr. I passed away, but sports aren’t perfect.”
Ausmus said he would like to manage a big-league club again. It’s something he took great pleasure in, from the in-game strategy to the clubhouse camaraderie. Even prior to the Tigers’ current series against the Twins, by which time Ausmus knew he wasn’t going to come back, he was preparing as diligently as ever.
“It’s the end of me being in the dugout here,” he said, “but it could also be a new beginning.”
As Ausmus talked to reporters for perhaps the final time in the Tigers’ dugout on Friday afternoon, the hot sun sinking below the bleachers down the first base line, there wasn’t a hint of frustration on his face. He fielded questions from all angles and answered them thoughtfully. His voice was steady. His tone was appreciative.
Ausmus has his regrets, to be sure, but he seems genuinely at peace with the Tigers’ decision to move on without him.
“We’ll part ways very amicably, no hard feelings. I wish Al the best. I think he’s got the organization pointing in the right direction. Beefed up the analytics, beefed up scouting, made some tough calls in trading guys like Ver to acquire prospects and rebuild the minor league system. It’s going to be a little bit of a haul here for the first couple of years, but they’re moving in the right direction,” Ausmus said. “I wish the Tigers and Al nothing but the best.”