New Angels manager Brad Ausmus is confident he and the team can take next step together

  • New Angels manager Brad Ausmus, left, is joined by his wife Liz at a press conference to introduce him last month at Angel Stadium. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • New Angels manager Brad Ausmus talks to reporters during his introductory news conference last month at Angel Stadium. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Sound
    The gallery will resume inseconds
  • New Angels manager Brad Ausmus talks to reporters during his introductory news conference last month at Angel Stadium. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Angels owner Arte Moreno, left, and General Manager Billy Eppler, right, join the team’s new manager, Brad Ausmus, as he puts on a jersey during his introductory news conference last month at Angel Stadium. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • New Angels manager Brad Ausmus talks to reporters during his introductory news conference last month at Angel Stadium. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

  • New Angels manager Brad Ausmus talks to reporters during his introductory news conference last month at Angel Stadium. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • New Angels manager Brad Ausmus, center, puts on an Angels jersey with help from team owner Arte Moreno, left, and General Manager Billy Eppler during Monday’s introductory news conference at Angel Stadium. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)Billy Eppler

  • New Angels manager Brad Ausmus, center, puts on an Angel jersey and is joined by owner Arte Moreno, left, and general manager Billy Eppler during a press conference at Angel Stadium in Anaheim on Monday, October 22, 2018. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)Billy Eppler

  • New Angels manager Brad Ausmus, left, talks with Hall of Famer and former Angel Rod Carew after an introductory press conference last month at Angel Stadium. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • New Angels manager Brad Ausmus, left, talks with Hall of Famer and former Angel Rod Carew after an introductory press conference last month at Angel Stadium. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

  • New Angels manager Brad Ausmus pauses to listen to a question from a reporter during his introductory news conference last month at Angel Stadium. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • New Angels manager Brad Ausmus, right, shakes hands with starting pitcher JC Ramirez after a news conference Monday, Oct. 22, 2018, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • New Angels manager Brad Ausmus answers questions from reporters during his introductory press conference last month at Angel Stadium. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • New Angels manager Brad Ausmus answers questions from reporters during his introductory press conference last month at Angel Stadium. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

  • New Angels manager Brad Ausmus does a radio interview following his introductory news conference last month at Angel Stadium. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

  • The Angel Stadium video board shows a picture of new Angels manager Brad Ausmus during his introductory news conference last month at Angel Stadium. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • New Angels manager Brad Ausmus does a radio interview following his introductory news conference last month at Angel Stadium. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

  • “I still view players through the lens of being a player,” new Angels manager Brad Ausmus said. “This game is not easy. It may look easy on TV, but it’s not an easy game. If you carry that philosophy into managing or coaching, you’ll get a lot more respect from the players.” (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

of

Expand

ENCINITAS — One long Saturday night in 2006, Brad Ausmus beat a path between the visitor’s dugout and the manager’s office at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.

It was, in reality, part of a path he’d been following ever since he began his big league playing career.

Ausmus, last month hired to replace Mike Scioscia as the Angels manager, had been destined for the manager’s office all along. It was something suspected by his teammates and managers from his rookie year in 1993 but perhaps cemented on that night in Pittsburgh.

The Houston Astros were battling through what would be an 18-inning loss to the Pirates on May 27, 2006. Veteran Astros manager Phil Garner had gotten himself tossed in the eighth inning. Bench coach Cecil Cooper, who would normally take over, was also away that night, as Ausmus recalled.

It left a void at the helm of the Astros as they fought the Pirates through the marathon game. Ausmus, who had not started at catcher that night, took it upon himself to serve as the messenger between the dugout and Garner, who was back in his office.

“Brad kept running from the dugout to the manager’s office and asking what we should do,” Garner recalled recently. “After a while, I asked Brad. ‘What would you do?’

“Then after a while, I had him run the game.”

As Ausmus recalls the game, Garner was simply taking his suggestions all along, his way of nurturing him along the path to his destiny.

In 2006, Ausmus was still a starting catcher, so managing had remained only in the back of his mind – although firmly there. In the final years of his 18-year career, which ended in 2010, it became an inescapable destination.

“I knew he was going to be a manager,” Garner said.

That night in Pittsburgh might have only crystallized a notion that was apparent as early as his rookie season with the Padres in 1993. Hall of Famer closer Trevor Hoffman, Ausmus’ close friend and teammate at the start of his career in San Diego, said he always knew Ausmus would manage.

“He was predetermined for that,” Hoffman said. “As a player, he was not thinking of himself, but always thinking about the pitching staff. He just had that way of thinking about the game the way managers do. He was super cerebral, even back then. Smart as a whip. He just thought differently than the rest of us.”

Ausmus’ smarts – the stuff that earned him an Ivy League degree while he was playing in the minor leagues – served him well to parlay a 48th-round selection in the draft into nearly two decades in the majors.

Ausmus pored over statistics – before anyone was calling them “analytics” – to help devise scouting reports. Later in his career, he took over the pitchers’ meetings.

While he was soaking up the numbers, he also remained grounded enough on the field to know when his eyes should override the statistics.

He also spent enough time in big league clubhouses, befriending everyone from the clubhouse workers to the future Hall of Famers, to know how to set the mood of the room. Or even the plane.

All of that, plus a stint in the Padres’ front office, led to a four-year run as the Detroit Tigers manager. After another year in the front office, this time with the Angels, he’s ready to take another crack at managing.

Although he had a losing record with an aging roster in Detroit, many have compared his second chance to that of Astros manager A.J. Hinch, who worked with Ausmus in the Padres’ front office. At the time, Hinch was between a short and turbulent stint as the Arizona Diamondbacks manager and a championship with the Astros.

The Angels would be thrilled if Ausmus, 49, can follow the same path.

As Ausmus reflected at one of his favorite beachfront Mexican restaurants in San Diego County, he sounded confident in his ability to take the next step with his new team.

“Now that I’ve gone through it,” he said, “there is no question in my mind experience helps.”

He’s experienced quite a lot.

ALWAYS AHEAD OF THE CURVE

The road began back at Cheshire Academy in Connecticut, where Ausmus starred on the baseball field and in the classroom. The son of a university history professor, Ausmus had been recruited by all the Ivy League schools, he said.

Ausmus had narrowed his options to Dartmouth, Harvard and Princeton, but ended up picking Dartmouth because a summer league teammate went there. Ausmus gave little thought to playing professionally, even after the New York Yankees picked him in the 48th round of the 1987 draft.

Ausmus was all set to begin college, but days before he was to start classes, he had a change of heart and signed with the Yankees. They gave him $20,000 and said he could still go to Dartmouth, on their dime, in the offseason.

Ausmus spent his entire freshman year on the Hanover, N.H., campus, helping out with the baseball team even though he was no longer eligible to play, and then he began playing in the Yankees’ farm system in the summer of 1988.

Balancing a minor league career and the demands of Dartmouth were a challenge. Ausmus crammed extra classes into the offseasons, even doing some correspondence courses from spring training as he finished the final classes to get his degree.

Over the winter in New Hampshire, he would work out with the baseball team.

“We’d go over to the field house and do soft toss and BP every night,” said John Ross, a Dartmouth baseball player who became Ausmus’ roommate and remains a close friend. “We’d walk over in our boots and parkas. He was completely dedicated to taking it to the next level.”

Ross said Ausmus was clearly at a different level than the Dartmouth players, in every way.

“He had an extra level of competitiveness that even the rest of athletes didn’t have,” Ross said. “In the winters he’d come back and you could imagine what a big deal it was for him to be around the team.”

Ausmus would then disappear for what Ross joked was his “internship with the Yankees.”

Ausmus got as high as Triple-A with the Yankees before being picked by the Colorado Rockies in the expansion draft in 1992. He began the 1993 season in the Rockies’ farm system and earned his degree in government from Dartmouth in June. In July, he was traded to the Padres and made his major league debut on July 28.

From there, Ausmus began a career that included 1,971 games. Although he was the 1,152nd player picked in the 1987 draft, he played more than all but three of the 1,151 players selected before him: Hall of Famers Ken Griffey Jr. (the No. 1 pick) and Craig Biggio, and five-time Gold Glove winner Steve Finley.

Ausmus went from the Padres to the Astros to the Tigers to the Astros. It was around the start of his second stint with the Astros, in 2000, that Ausmus began to absorb the increasingly available statistical information.

Back then, Inside Edge was producing the statistical analysis of hitters and pitchers, derived from college kids manually scoring games. It was rudimentary stuff, compared to what’s available now, but Ausmus dove in.

“When I was there, he led the pitchers’ meetings,” said C.J. Nitkowski, a reliever who played with Ausmus in Houston and Detroit. “He was one of those guys you had confidence in because every finger he put down there was a purpose behind it. He was always all the way in on that kind of stuff.”

By 2004, Garner had taken over as the Astros manager. At one point, he noticed the statistical packages weren’t making it to his desk anymore. Ausmus had been getting to the park before Garner and taking them.

“He took ownership in making sure the pitchers knew what we were going to do,” Garner said. “He was always ahead of the curve on that kind of stuff.”

Ausmus, however, said he never wanted to get too far off the field and into the numbers.

“If you are in the middle of a game, and you know what the numbers say, but it’s the third game of a four-game series and a hitter is showing you something else, you’ve got to adjust,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to watch what’s happening in front of you and trust your eyes.”

That also applied to reading his teammates, the most well-known example of which didn’t even occur on the field.

In the 2005 National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Ausmus was behind the plate with the Astros one out away from winning the pennant in five games. Brad Lidge was on the mound. Ausmus called for a slider, and Lidge left it up.

Albert Pujols crushed the ball, for a three-run homer that silenced the ballpark and, to this day, causes Astros fans to boo Pujols whenever he comes to the plate.

After what Ausmus said was one of the only sleepless nights of his career, he and his teammates were boarding the plane to St. Louis for Game 6, in a mood that disturbed their manager.

“Usually there is a lot of noise, card games, activity, but we were getting on the plane and it’s really quiet and subdued, to the point where I’m concerned,” Garner said. “I’m sitting there thinking, I’m going to have to come up with a good speech to give these guys when we get to St. Louis.”

Ausmus took care of that. Having felt the same dour mood of his teammates, Ausmus enlisted the help of the pilot.

As the plane reached its cruising altitude, a voice came over the speakers: “We are cruising at 35,000 feet. If you look to your right, you’ll see the ball Albert Pujols hit last night.”

“At first I was pretty fired up,” Lidge recalled. “I wanted to kill the pilot.”

Then he turned and looked at Ausmus, who winked at him. Soon, the players were laughing again. They beat the Cardinals the next night to advance to the World Series.

“That was kind of a defining moment for Brad Ausmus,” Lidge said. “It shows he understands the individual and group psychology. He was able to address the situation. When you can make a team relax, make them laugh about it, then it’s over. Sometimes you have to rip off the band-aid.”

By that point in Ausmus’ career, he had become such a focal point in the Astros’ clubhouse that Garner compared him to Crash Davis, the wise old minor league catcher played by Kevin Costner in the film “Bull Durham.” A big league version, of course.

“He was the one everyone looked to,” Garner said. “People always deferred to him. He always had the right answers at the right time. Players gravitated to him a little bit.”

At the end of 2008, as Ausmus finished his career with the Astros, the team sent him off with a comical tribute video, with light-hearted jabs at his skills but plenty of respect for him as a leader. Ausmus, however, still wanted to play, as long as he could be in Southern California, where he and his wife Liz had been raising two girls.

The Dodgers signed Ausmus and he spent 2009 and 2010 there, mentoring players like Clayton Kershaw, who had made his big league debut in 2008.

“Aus was awesome,” Kershaw said. “One of my favorite teammates. … He obviously knows the game really well. He just has that temperament, that demeanor. Obviously, he’s smart. Just everything that goes along with being a manager.”

FINDING THE PROPER BALANCE

Although Ausmus had known by the end of his playing career in 2010 that he wanted to manage, he didn’t want to do it just yet. His daughters were 12 and 11 and he wanted to spend some time with them, including a cross-country RV trip with Hoffman and his family.

The Padres hired Ausmus as a special assistant to the general manager, and he began to get his feet wet in the front office in 2011. He got a taste of all areas of baseball operations, and he began to dabble in analytics. Ausmus applied for a couple managerial jobs over the next few years, and he was finally hired by the Tigers after the 2013 season.

Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers GM who hired Ausmus, said he checked all the boxes.

“I’ve always been impressed with him,” said Dombrowski, now the Boston Red Sox GM. “He’s a very good baseball man, very knowledgeable, well-respected, good leadership qualities. He communicates well, although he’s not too boisterous. He’s more of a quiet leader, but he can take charge if he needs to.”

Ausmus stepped into a veteran-laden clubhouse that included the likes of Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler and Torii Hunter. They had won three straight division titles before Ausmus arrived, and Ausmus ran the streak to four.

With the Tigers, Ausmus tackled one of the most important issues facing any modern manager: blending analytics from upstairs with the way the players operate on the field.

“He’s a very intelligent guy who will bring a bit of analytics and sabermetrics to the game, but not lose his gut feeling,” Hunter said.

Kinsler, who spent the first four months of last season with the Angels, said Ausmus had the right mix: “He can take that information and use it right. Right now baseball is so blind to analytics. It’s unbelievable. I don’t know if people think they can predict the game or think they are playing blackjack, but there’s a human element. I think Brad can handle that.”

After 18 years of playing with the mind of a manager, Ausmus was now managing with the mind of a player.

“I still view players through the lens of being a player,” Ausmus said the day he was introduced as the Angels’ manager. “This game is not easy. It may look easy on TV, but it’s not an easy game. If you carry that philosophy into managing or coaching, you’ll get a lot more respect from the players.”

Hunter and Kinsler both said they enjoyed playing for Ausmus, whose tenure in Detroit ended after a 98-loss, last-place finish in 2017.

“To blame Brad is wrong,” Kinsler said. “It was his first managerial job, so there were a lot of things he was trying to learn, but everybody loves Brad. He’s a great guy. He’s a good guy to be around on a daily basis.”

After Ausmus lost the Tigers job, he knew he wanted to manage again, but only after another step back.

Angels general manager Billy Eppler, who only barely knew Ausmus a year ago, set up a meeting with him and hired him as a special assistant a year ago. For Ausmus, it was a chance to remain close to home, while diving into the analytics the Angels were using.

In that year, Ausmus saw every part of the Angels’ baseball operations department, and he and Eppler worked closely together.

Now Ausmus will return to the dugout, with what he believes is a further understanding of both the human and analytical sides of the job.

It’s a path familiar to Hinch, who was in the front office in between managing jobs in Arizona and Houston.

“I think the general view is that these new-age managers, all of us know the information, we appreciate the information, but it all comes down to how you apply the information and who you apply it to,” said Hinch, who remains a close friend of Ausmus. “Brad has a great balance. It’s not just having the information and accepting it. The art is applying it to the right people at the right time for the right reasons. I think you do that better the more experience you gather. I can see the match. I can see Brad flourishing there.”

***

Note from WSOE.Org : This content has been auto-generated from a syndicated feed.