By Chris Emma-
CHICAGO (CBS) — News of Derek Fisher’s hiring as the New York Knicks’ coach earlier this week raised eyebrows in the sports world. Five years and $25 million for a guy who’s never coached a game.
First-year Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus may have picked the wrong sport.
“Man, they get some big contracts,” Ausmus said with a smile Wednesday at U.S. Cellular Field.
That wasn’t the only reaction Ausmus had to the news. He, too, was hired to lead a team despite having never coached before. It’s a growing trend in sports: find the recently retired, respected former player and plug him into a demanding role.
“Maybe executives are putting a little bit more stock in the ability of a coach or manager to relate to his player core,” Ausmus said.
It’s one of the greatest attributes Ausmus brings to the job. He’s well-liked, both as a manager and a comrade. His personality clicks with the team’s chemistry, and his youthful approach to the game resonates with a young team.
“He’s the guy who comes in and cracks a joke,” Tigers right fielder Torii Hunter said. “He understands, baseball is a tough game. You have to keep coming back every day and making adjustments. He tries to make sure everybody is on the up-and-up mentally.”
Added Tigers reliever Ian Krol: “He understands the new era of the game of baseball.”
The greatest difference for a player-turned-manager is handling the responsibilities of 25 players, not just one. Aside from that, nothing has caught Ausmus by surprise. It’s something White Sox manager Robin Ventura — tossed into the same situation two years ago — learned to manage.
“It’s just different from being a player,” Ventura said. “You’re concerned about everybody else, besides taking care of yourself. With him, the way (Ausmus) came up through the game, I’m sure he’s going to do fine.”
With all due respect to clubhouse chemistry, the greatest variable to a baseball team comes from advanced metrics. This is where youth excels over old-school baseball types. It’s also where Ausmus shows his greatest strength.
As a catcher during his long major league career, Ausmus was constantly paying attention to the matchups. When sabermetrics became a commonplace in the game, he grew to appreciate their use.
“I enjoyed that as a catcher, the cat and mouse game and the game within the game,” Ausmus said.
Rather than playing by situations — bringing in a lefty pitcher to face a lefty hitter — Ausmus manages to the metrics. Baseball executives love the philosophy match.
For Krol, a would-be lefty situational arm from the bullpen, Ausmus’s approach is a breath of fresh air.
“It’s awesome seeing that come into baseball, now,” he said. “Especially for me, as a young guy. It’s really cool.”
The greatest joy for Ausmus in this unfamiliar role comes from his relationships with the players. He doesn’t need a Derek Fisher mega-deal to be happy.
“I really enjoy being around the guys,” Ausmus said. “Being a part of the team is always the most fun part for me.”
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.