A week after Jim Leyland retired and merely two interviews into the process to identify his successor, there are far too many beginning to advocate for the comfortable. The Detroit Tigers don’t need continuity in their dugout now, they need a new approach out of a brand new manager.
Instead of realizing that, it seems many in Detroit fear this inevitable change. They fear that new approach. Leyland has been around for eight years. He’s had success. Why rock the boat now? After all, an outsider may do things differently. How would that work out? Would the team suffer greatly and refuse to play for someone else? May as well find his successor from within and hire Lloyd McClendon, Tom Brookens or Mike Rojas. Some have even stumped for the unproven Jeff Jones. Seriously.
Looking at things honestly, none of those people will be the ones taking the Tigers over the top, nor the ones giving the team stability for the foreseeable future in the dugout. At this point, a new voice and approach is needed in Detroit, considering Leyland and his staff have gotten stale. When Leyland retired, he gave the Tigers a chance at a fresh start with new blood. He basically intimated himself that someone younger and different should take over in last week’s farewell press conference.
The Tigers front office shouldn’t squander that opportunity simply to hire a “yes man” from the old regime merely for continuity’s sake. For this particular team, that idea will do more harm than good and promote a complacent mindset. Much is made of player and manager comfort in baseball, but after eight years of Leyland, eight years of McClendon and four years of Brookens, it’s finally time for some new ideas, which no in-house candidate can truly bring. After flaming out in embarassing fashion in the ALCS a year after being swept in the World Series, now is not the time for comfort.
Here’s some facts about those Tiger coaches atop plenty of people’s lists to replace Leyland. McClendon is 336-446 in his managerial career during a failed tenure in Pittsburgh which was most notable for a meltdown in which he stole first base. Brookens is now known for being a worse third base coach than Gene Lamont, and Rojas is seven years removed from his last managerial position, which came with the Toledo Mud Hens. Jones, who hasn’t been mentioned besides the rants of fans, hasn’t ever managed. Are these serious candidates for a team with aspirations of winning a World Series? One can only hope not.
Worse yet, it seems many have an agenda to push these candidates. A Detroit Free Press article over the weekend actually compared McClendon with Mike Matheny, the St. Louis Cardinals’ accomplished manager, and wondered if Detroit would take the same approach to their hire as the Cardinals did when replacing Tony La Russa. Where age and approach are concerned, Mathney is more like Brad Ausmus, Torey Lovullo or Dave Martinez than McClendon. Despite Matheny’s experience working with the organization, he was a fresh face and had not failed as a manager. McClendon already has. Detroit doesn’t have a candidate like Matheny on staff, meaning outside candidates like Ausmus and Lovullo are more like Matheny than McClendon. Considering age and approach, Ausmus may be his closest body double.
At this point, Tiger fans need to look beyond such senseless local cheerleading and demand something different than the same approach they have gotten used to and comfortable with. Yes, the Tigers have been successful under Leyland, but they haven’t won a World Series, which is the ultimate goal. Is that a simple matter of luck? Perhaps, but well prepared teams often make their own luck. In the midst of their last three playoff losses, have the Tigers always been the most prepared, best managed team, or have they been forced to lament missed opportunities time and again? Considering those questions can be answered on their own, as much blame should fall on McClendon, Brookens and company as it has on Leyland.
As the interview process continues through this week, remember that change can be a good thing, and is especially needed in this case. Whether it’s Tim Wallach, Ausmus, Lovullo, Rick Renteria, Manny Acta or someone else, an approach different from Leyland’s is now what’s needed most in Detroit’s dugout.
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax