Brad Ausmus has the honor of being the first name through the NL East rumor mill as both the Mets and Phillies become inevitably linked to every candidate out there. As with all of these searches in the preliminary stages, and with the post season not even close to over, lists of contenders are still 50 names long.
At the time of his hiring in Detroit, the fresh-faced Ausmus was replacing Jim Leyland, once referred to as “a copy of Parade [Magazine] from 1988 that's all warped and sun-faded and moldy.” It was one of the most visual transfers of old to new school in manager-hiring history. Upon Leyland’s departure, Jack Moore of Sports on Earth relayed this story from the Pittsburgh Gazette of Leyland’s early days of managing the Pirates, when he would perch at the window of his hotel room and watch the bar across the street to see which of his players had stayed out past curfew.
At 1 a.m., Johnny Murphy, a pitcher, weaved out of the bar. Leyland leaned out of the window and shouted, "Murph, it's already cost you 50 bucks. You might as well make a night of it."
Without hesitation, Murphy turned, went back into the bar and got his money's worth."
Mmm, do I smell asbestos? Because we’re in an old school.*
So, who the hell is Brad Ausmus? He’s 48 years old. He has managed only the Tigers, and did so to a 314-332 record over four seasons since 2014. They finished first, then last, then second, then last. Knowledge got Ausmus this job; precious, precious baseball knowledge, gleaned from 18 years behind the plate as an MLB catcher. He won three Gold Gloves and led the league in grounding into double plays in 2002.
Ausmus was pointed to for his assassin-like awareness of opponent weaknesses, and that intelligence was where his authority was generated, rather than kicking over a table or yelling across the street. This isn’t a knock on his communication skills, as he was able to maintain a comprehensive rapport with mostly everybody as a player, a trait that can translate well in the clubhouse. But it’s also clear that he would represent a sort of manager the Phillies have never had: One who came from the modernized definitions of the sport, making calculated decisions during the game based on observation and statistics rather than when his stomach gurgled or because somebody pissed him off. Outmaneuvering opponents mentally was what he loved about playing baseball.
"I always enjoyed the cerebral part," Ausmus said. "It was much more difficult to hit -- that was the part of the game I didn't really enjoy."
When Ausmus wasn’t offered a new contract, it was noted by Tigers GM Al Avila that it was not really about Ausmus, but due to the franchise needing a new voice as it began its next rebuilding phase, and even Ausmus said that if they had offered to extend his contract, he wouldn’t have accepted it. So, now he’s just exists as the subject of New York and Philadelphia sports headlines for the next couple of weeks.
The last time the Phillies saw sustained success, Charlie Manuel set up shop with a locker room full of young, talented players at the beginning of their careers. He established a loose, friendly clubhouse that did not lack intensity, and the players thrived. Since then we’ve seen Ryne Sandberg and Pete Mackanin give it a go, with Mackanin having a generally good relationship with his team as it struggled to evolve and Sandberg just kind of standing there while the franchise burned through some bad years. Analytics, or the more “cerebral” aspects of managing were something that didn’t get a lot of discussion, and the Phillies as a whole dragged their feet in embracing them until that fateful John Middleton/Andy MacPhail press conference in 2015.
Matt Klentak, a younger, more analytic GM than the Phillies have ever seen, was always suspected of wanting to bring in his own manager, with Mackanin being a holdover from the previous regime, as GMs typically do. He appears in the process of doing so, and while that process has only publicly begun (it’s difficult to believe the Phillies hadn’t looked into replacements prior to Mackanin’s firing), a guy of Ausmus’ ilk could wind up here. It would be yet another deep, foundational shift for the Phillies as they reach for a new winning identity, and likely spawn lively debates in all of the predictable places.
But let’s not assign personalities to people just yet, with this situation still some ways of from its conclusion. Instead, this is the part where we gather and await baseball writers casually tossing out rumors. Like this morning, when Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe took it upon himself to throw five more managers’ names into the squealing masses for us to feed upon:
- Dusty Wathan
- Larry Bowa
- Ruben Amaro Jr.
- Eric Wedge
- Charlie Montoyo
- Alex Cora
Wathan has been mentioned since the beginning, as he’s already a manager within the organization and has worked with all of the key prospects who will factor into the coming years. Bowa and the Phillies are reportedly mutually interested in him staying with the team, but it’s unrealistic that it would be as the manager, again, when the team is looking to kick off a new era. Fresh off his induction into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame, Wedge was apparently who MacPhail had desired to fill the manager role in Baltimore before it went to Buck Showalter. Montoyo, the Rays’ third base coach, has been embedded in various managerial roles in the Tampa organization since its inception in 1997 and is a person. Cafardo referred to Cora, the Astros’ bench coach, as a “hot commodity,” and he is quickly being cast as the fun, sexy choice among the current lists of candidates.
Red Sox first base coach Ruben Amaro, Jr.’s name was also mentioned.
*Asbestos has no smell