August 16, 2015

The Problem That Results When the Leader Fails To Be Crystal Clear (Continued)

"It was clear they weren't completely on the same page" repeat — repeat — repeat 

Recently, I wrote that leaders have to give clear, direct messages when they want something done. It is imperative that the information is clearly stated. If you want certain results, you have to make the direction clear. The actual post can be read here.

Tigers Manager Brad Ausmus

The Detroit Tigers are in the middle of what might be the team's most disappointing season — ever. At least in 2003 the Tigers, their fans, and former GM Dave Dombrowski knew that the team would be bad. Perhaps not as bad as they really were, but bad nonetheless. The team lost 119 games and that might have surpassed the low expectations but it was still a rough year. Alan Trammell was the team's manager then and would remain through 2005. The Tigers hired former longtime organization man Jim Leyland to manage beginning with the 2006 season.

Eight years later, after the 2013 season when Manager Jim Leyland retired, Dombrowski interviewed a number of candidates to replace Leyland and chose — ultimately — Brad Ausmus. Ausmus had no previous coaching or management experience in baseball, but he did catch for 18 seasons, including two stints with the Tigers. One thing Leyland and Ausmus had in common was that they both had been catchers. The Tigers did not interview anyone with significant managerial experience prior to hiring Ausmus.

During the past two seasons and especially during the playoffs in 2014, I have questioned Ausmus' management of the bullpen, but could easily put some of the blame on the GM at the time, Dombrowski, who put together the sad sack bullpen. However, two incidents happened this season that really make me wonder about Ausmus' managing ability.

Today, after a Houston Astros walk–off win, this is what was told to Tigers beat writer Chris McCosky of the Detroit News today:

"Talking to Ausmus, Avila and Wilson afterward, it was clear they weren't completely on the same page against Altuve." 

You can read the whole column at here. Twitter lit up with fans and writers and TV personalities just amazed that the Tigers had pitched to the fine young leadoff hitter for the Astros with two bases open and two outs in the bottom of the ninth. I wish Kirk Gibson had been commentating today.

Earlier in the season, James Schmehl of MLIVE wrote about a miscommunication between ace starting pitcher David Price and Ausmus.

Price and Ausmus had the signals mixed. 
"It was simply a case of miscommunication that led to Tigers ace David Price not coming back out to the mound after the sixth inning against the White Sox." 
The rest of Schmehl's column can be found by clicking this link.

There have been other occasions when I wondered about Manager Ausmus; however, these two incidents polarize and actually clarify that Ausmus is not clear in his directions. When Leyland rode back into town as manager, he had several years of managerial experience behind him. Heck, he once told Barry Bonds who the boss was when they were both with the Pirates in 1991. Leyland had a knack for making things crystal clear.

I remember times when the Tigers were improving and Leyland would visit the mound and give the pitcher a quick pep talk. I always imagined it was something like, "Do you want to get on a Greyhound to Toledo tonight?" If the answer was "No," then Leyland would give a quick directive and OFTEN TIMES it happened.

One of the problems with Ausmus possibly could be the inexperience. Taking over the veteran–laden Tigers team in 2014 could have been a great opportunity for a rookie manager. Ausmus, though, did not seem to take full advantage of the opportunity given him by Dave Dombrowski. Now, Dombrowski is no longer running the team, so it may spell the end for Ausmus, as well. Today's outcome may well have been the same had Alex Wilson walked Altuve, but that is not the point. The point is that Ausmus was not clear to his pitcher or catcher on the expectations.

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