DETROIT — The Detroit Tigers hired Brad Ausmus as their new manager Sunday, turning to a 44-year-old former catcher with almost no managerial experience to replace Jim Leyland at the helm of the three-time defending AL Central champions.
Ausmus, who worked most recently in the San Diego Padres front office as a special assistant to the general manager, emerged as Detroit’s pick less than two weeks after Leyland stepped down. Ausmus takes over a team that has reached the AL championship series three straight years and should be well positioned for another big season in 2014.
Ausmus managed Israel’s team in the World Baseball Classic, but he’s inexperienced as a manager compared to some other potential candidates. Ausmus played in the majors from 1993-2010.
The Tigers also interviewed Padres bench coach Rick Renteria and Los Angeles Dodgers third base coach Tim Wallach — as well as Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon.
If continuity was Detroit’s main concern, McClendon may have been the choice, but the Tigers acted a bit more boldly in hiring the Dartmouth-educated Ausmus, whose name also surfaced recently in connection with the Chicago Cubs’ job.
Detroit is one of three teams with first-time major league managers who should have a chance to win right away in 2014. The Washington Nationals hired Matt Williams to replace Davey Johnson. The Cincinnati Reds, who fired Dusty Baker after a 90-win season, went with pitching coach Bryan Price as their new manager.
Ausmus is 24 years younger than the man he’s replacing, and he inherits a roster with a high payroll and several big names, including Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera. He’ll have a chance to win right away, and he’ll have to deal with high expectations.
The contrasts with the crusty-but-respected Leyland are obvious, and Ausmus will have to prove he can guide this star-studded team through the inevitable rough patches — but it wasn’t long ago that Ausmus was on the other side of that player-manager relationship. He played in 1,971 games with four different teams. He played for the Tigers for part of the 1996 season, and again from 1999-2000.