Excerpted by permission from American Jews and America’s Game: Voices of a Growing Legacy in Baseball by Larry Ruttman. Copyright © 2013 by Lawrence A. Ruttman. Published by University of Nebraska Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Available wherever books are sold or via University of Nebraska Press (800-848-6224).
Brad Ausmus, an all-star for the Tigers playing in the American League, a three-time Gold Glove winner playing for the Astros in the National League, and possessor of the third best lifetime fielding average – .991 – of any catcher in major league history with a minimum of 1,000 games played, is recognized among his peers for his superlative catching skills, and terrific all around play. It may be that the handsome and well-spoken Dartmouth grad whose conditioning and durability has enabled him to catch over 100 games for eleven seasons in a row flies under the radar of many fans fixated on the big hit, but aficionados know that Brad’s intelligence, refined by the example of his accomplished Jewish mother with input from his Protestant professorial father, will certainly lead Brad to further success in life, and perhaps to a big league managing career.
Brad Ausmus carries himself with the confidence of a man willing to acknowledge his mentors:
“You know what is funny? I’ve taken something away from every manager I’ve played for in terms of understanding the game of baseball. Certainly, Phil Garner took the time to explain things to me. Larry Dierker, who managed here in Houston, allowed his players to do a lot on their own. I was able to learn a lot playing under Larry because I made decisions on my own that, generally speaking, managers want to make. Buddy Bell was a great player’s manager. Every manager taught me something (Garner and Bell were infielders and Dierker a starting pitcher. All were fine major league players who enjoyed long careers. Each went on to distinguished and lengthy managerial tenures).”
Brad’s mention of Phil Garner brought to mind his reputation for an edgy yet gentle sarcasm which he says he inherited from his pedagogical father. Phil Garner, joking about Ausmus, said, “I have to keep him playing, because if he starts managing, he’ll be better than me.” Brad Ausmus, quick on the uptake, responded, “Yeah, but if he keeps playing me more, he may end up losing his job anyway.” Ironically, on August 27, 2007, Garner was fired. When Brad heard about that, he said, “Phil and I had many a friendly verbal joust. But not about baseball tactics. He was very good at talking to me and explaining what his thought process was. He was very good at allowing me to ask any questions without becoming defensive.”
It is acknowledged that Brad Ausmus can do superlatively well everything that a catcher should be able to do, having developed his abilities in all phases of the catcher’s art: an accurate and powerful arm, quick release, footwork, handling and framing pitches, and, last but hardly least, the nurturing of pitchers. How did all that happen? Brad Ausmus articulately talked about what might be termed his philosophy of catching:
“There are a few things that go into that. One, just literally having the experience of watching pitchers throw, and over the course of watching all these pitchers, hundreds and hundreds of them, hundreds of thousands of pitches, you start to see things. Tendencies, when things go wrong – you can immediately pick them up. You may not even be looking for it, but something looks different. Over time, you begin to realize when it looks different. Experience is a big factor. I think understanding how pitchers think, and letting them know that you care how they think, and that their performance on the mound is as important to you as it is to them. Perhaps most importantly is to garner the respect of the pitchers. They have to have respect and trust for the catcher. They have to trust that you’ll block the ball in the dirt; they have to trust that you know the opposing hitters; they have to trust that you know the situation; and they have to trust that you know them. So, I’d say experience, trust, respect, and understanding.”
That that answer alone would qualify Brad to be thought of as managerial material. How does Brad Ausmus feel about becoming a manager as his long career winds down?
“I don’t know if I’ll become a manager or not. There are only thirty managerial jobs in the major leagues. I wouldn’t be real keen on going to the minors again. I’ve been away from my children and my wife for a good portion of each year. I feel like I’d like to spend more time at home for a while in the immediate aftermath of my career. In the long run? I’m not going to say ‘no,’ because I might want to do that.”
The sum of Brad Ausmus’ comments marks him as the thinking man’s catcher as well as a catcher’s catcher. At this writing, a year after our interview, Brad has enjoyed another successful year catching for the Houston Astros. Although in a few days he will turn forty, loathe to end his catching career, he has signed on with the pennant hopeful Los Angles Dodgers where there is no doubt that his catching and teaching skills will be valuable.
A prediction: Brad will play a year or two more, take some of that time off with his family which he spoke about, and then seamlessly put his leg on the top dugout step, living out his next role as a fine big league manager.