Brad Ausmus

This article was written by Thomas J. Brown Jr.


Bradley David Ausmus enjoyed a prosperous career in baseball after he took a circuitous road to get to the major leagues. Although it took more than five years for him to reach the majors, his path to being a major-league manager was much shorter. Ausmus became manager of the Detroit Tigers after a brief managing stint in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

Ausmus was born on April 14, 1969, in New Haven, Connecticut. His father, Harry Jack Ausmus, a Protestant, retired from a long career as professor of European history at Southern Connecticut State University. His mother, Linda, is Jewish. While growing up in Connecticut, Ausmus didn’t have a strong connection with his Jewish roots. He would occasionally celebrate the high holidays with his mother’s family but it never went further than that.1

When Ausmus was 5 years old, he told his father that “when he grew up he wanted to go to Dartmouth and he wanted to play baseball.” Harry Ausmus gave his son a lecture about having to work hard and told him if he did, he could do both.2 Little did father and son know at the time that both of these dreams would eventually come true.

Ausmus attended Cheshire High School in Cheshire, Connecticut. He played several sports there but excelled in baseball. As a sophomore he played shortstop and batted .327. Ausmus became a catcher as a junior, hit .436 and was chosen for the All-State team. He hit .411 during his senior year and was named the Cheshire Area High School Player of the Year.3 His leadership skills were evident to those who coached and played with him.

“Looking back now, we all realized how confident Brad was, and how intelligent he was. And if any of us forgot, he wasn’t bashful about reminding us,” recalled Nick Carparelli Jr., a teammate on the Cheshire High baseball team.4 When Ausmus became the Tigers manager in 2013, he credited his Cheshire High coach, Nick Carparelli Sr., for helping him to learn how to coach.

“He was a huge influence,” Ausmus said of his coach. “Not so much from the baseball perspective, but more on how to treat human beings and how to work hard.” Carparelli was also complimentary of Ausmus: “He was always the type of kid in control of things — in control of the game, of a pitcher. I think he always knew he wanted to stay in the game [after he stopped playing], whether on the administrative end or as an on-field manager.”5

By the time Ausmus graduated from high school, recruiters from Dartmouth, Harvard, and Princeton pursued him as a catcher. Also, the New York Yankees selected him in the 48th round of the June 1987 amateur draft. Ausmus initially refused to sign with the Yankees. His parents were adamant that he pursue a college degree. They eventually agreed that he could play baseball as long as it didn’t interfere with school.6 Ausmus signed with the Yankees after they agreed that he could attend classes and play in the minors when school ended.

After his freshman year Ausmus adjusted his schedule to spend the fall and winter terms at Dartmouth, taking four courses each term to keep up with his classmates. This left him free to go to spring training and play baseball during the season. Ausmus graduated from Dartmouth with a degree in government in 1991.7

In the summer of 1988 the Yankees sent Ausmus to their rookie-league team, the Gulf Coast Yankees. He spent most of the season there before getting a promotion to the low Class-A Oneonta Yankees (New York-Pennsylvania League) for two games. In the rookie league he had 15 RBIs and a .255 batting average before returning to classes in the fall of 1988. In the summer of 1989 Ausmus played in 52 games at Oneonta; in 1990 he played in 107 games for the high Class-A Prince William Cannons (Carolina League). Ausmus started the 1991 season in Double A, with the Albany-Colonie Yankees of the Eastern League, but the Yankees sent him back to Prince William for the second half of the season, and he raised his batting average to 304.

After graduating from Dartmouth in the winter of 1991, Ausmus spent most of the 1992 season with the Triple-A Columbus Clippers (International League), with a brief stay at Albany-Colonie.

The major leagues were expanding and one of the new teams, the Colorado Rockies, drafted Ausmus from the Yankees in the expansion draft after the 1992 season. He spent the first part of the 1993 season with the Colorado Springs Sky Sox (Pacific Coast League), batting .270 in 76 games. On July 26, Ausmus was traded by the Rockies with Doug Bochtler and a player to be named to the San Diego Padres for Greg Harris and Bruce Hurst. ( Andy Ashby was the player to be named.)

Ausmus finally reached the majors with the Padres. He played in his first major-league game two days after the trade, on July 28, starting against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Ausmus got his first major-league hit in the fourth inning, a single off starter Greg Hibbard. He threw out speedster Willie Wilson trying to steal second in the eighth inning, a sign of his excellent defensive skills.

By the time Ausmus reached the majors, he had spent more than five years in the minors. He reflected on those years later: “I was naïve. In my mind, I was going to make it eventually and I just kept slogging away. My first year, I think I got paid $700 a month. I didn’t know any better. I just assumed the best and that eventually I would make it. I didn’t realize how stacked the odds were against me.”8

Ausmus became the Padres’ full-time catcher in 1994 when he started 94 games. He batted .251 with 7 home runs, a career best to that point. But his importance to the Padres was not his offense but his defensive skills. He led the league in putouts by a catcher when he had 683 putouts that year. The Padres were pleased with Ausmus and he remained their starting catcher in 1995. He batted .293 that year, a career best, and stole 16 bases, the most by a major-league catcher since Craig Biggio stole 19 in 1991. Defensively, Ausmus led the league in assists (63) and double plays by a catcher (14).

Ausmus married Elizabeth Ann “Liz” Selfridge in 1995. They had two daughters, Sophie, born in 1998, and Abigail, born in 1999.

Ausmus got off to a shaky start offensively in 1996. By mid-June, hitting just .181 in 149 at-bats, Ausmus was traded to the Tigers with Andujar Cedeno and minor leaguer Russ Spear for John Flaherty and Chris Gomez.

The Tigers made Ausmus their full-time catcher. He played in 75 Detroit games, improving his batting average to .248, and continued to be an asset defensively.

Yet Ausmus was traded by the Tigers in the offseason. He went to the Houston Astros along with José Lima, Trever Miller, C.J. Nitkowski, and Daryle Ward, for Doug Brocail, Brian Hunter, Todd Jones, Orlando Miller, and cash. (This was the first of three consecutive deals over a four-year span inn which Ausmus was exchanged between the two teams.)

Ausmus spent 1999 and 2000 as the Astros starting catcher, batting a cumulative .268. He had 25 doubles in 1998 and averaged 44 RBIs during the two seasons, both offensive improvements for him. He continued to an excellent defensive catcher.

By this time, Ausmus was considered a weak hitter but an excellent defensive player. On January 14, 1999, the Astros sent Ausmus back to the Tigers along with minor-leaguer C.J. Nitkowski for Paul Bako, Dean Crow, and Brian Powell and minor-league players Mark Persails and Carlos Villalobos.

Ausmus had his best offensive season in 1999. He batted .275 and set career highs in on-base percentage (.365) and slugging percentage (.415). He was chosen for his only All-Star game appearance, as the backup catcher for Ivan Rodriguez. After replacing Rodriguez in the sixth inning, Ausmus showed his defensive prowess when he threw out Brian Jordan trying to steal second in the seventh. He got one at-bat in the game and grounded out to second.

Ausmus had another solid year defensively in 2000. He was recognized for his ability to block pitches at the plate. Pitchers regarded him highly for identifying their strengths and weaknesses and using that knowledge to guide them through a game.9

The Tigers were looking for a catcher who might help them offensively so Ausmus was traded back to the Astros on December 11, 2000. With Doug Brocail and Nelson Cruz, he went to Houston in exchange for Roger Cedeno, Chris Holt, and Mitch Meluskey.

By the time Ausmus returned to Houston, he had fully established his reputation as a defensive asset and was acknowledged as one of the tops at bringing out the best in pitchers. Timothy de Block reflected on his defensive prowess in 2012: “My lasting imagery of Ausmus is his ability to block any and every ball in the dirt. Jason Castro‘s inability to do so this season reminds me how good Ausmus was at it, and listening to various announcers tell kids that’s the way to do it.”10

Upon his return to the Astros, Ausmus began the most productive period of his career. He became Houston’s starting catcher, a position he held through 2007. He never became a consistently solid hitting threat during those years although he did improve offensively. In 2004, he batted .308 against left-handers, and was .302 in situations that were “late and close,” meaning in the seventh inning or later, with the score tied or the tying run on base, at the plate, or on deck. These were significant improvements from the previous year and helped the Astros as they made the postseason run.

Ausmus had more walks than strikeouts for the only time in his career in 2005. In 2007, he batted .235 but tied for second among National League catchers with six stolen bases. He recorded his 100th career stolen base on July 27.11

Even though he never became a solid hitter, Ausmus was valuable to the Astros for his work behind the plate. He earned his first Gold Glove Award in 2001, and followed it up with a second in 2002. His fielding percentage both years was .997.  In many ways, Ausmus’s leadership gave the Astros another manager on the field.

“I’m thinking what’s the score, what inning are we in, how many outs, what’s this hitter’s weakness, what’s this pitcher’s strengths, who’s on deck, who could pinch-hit, who is up after the hitter on deck and you kind of go through all of these things in an instant. And then you make a decision and put down the next signal.”12

The Astros pitchers relied on Ausmus and respected his hard work to prepare them for the game. He prepared graphs for his pitchers before every series showing the strengths and weaknesses of every player on the opposing team.

The Astros made the playoffs in 2001, losing the National League Division Series in three games to the Atlanta Braves. Ausmus contributed a two-run home run off Greg Maddux in the first game. He finished the series with a .625 slugging percentage.

In 2004, the Astros reached the NLCS, falling to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games. Ausmus felt he let his teammates down in the series when he called for one too many sliders from closer Dan Miceli. That misstep led to a tie-breaking home run by Albert Pujols The Cardinals took a two-games-to-none lead in the series and the Astros never caught up afterward.13

In the 2005 NL Division Series, against Atlanta, Ausmus hit a home run that Tal Smith, a longtime Astros executive, called “one of the greatest hits in Astros history.” The homer, off Kyle Farnsworth with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game Four, tied the game, 6-6, and the Astros got a walk-off victory in the 18th inning. Smith, the Astros’ president of baseball operations at the time, said the homer was “[a]bsolutely critical.”14 Ausmus caught the first 12 innings of the game, played first base from the 13th inning to the 15th, then returned to catch the 16th through 18th for Roger Clemens.

The Astros defeated the Cardinals for the National League pennant in the NCLS. Ausmus was 7-for-22 during the series, including three hits in the sixth and final game, a 5-1 Astros win.

Tal Smith said Ausmus“was invaluable” during the Astros’ playoff run, adding, “He deserves an awful lot of credit for our success. It was like having another manager on the field. He was very active with the pitching staff. He was so knowledgeable, so savvy. I thought he was instrumental with our success.”15

The Astros were swept in the World Series by the Chicago White Sox. Ausmus started all four games behind the plate and collected four hits. Even with the disappointing loss in the World Series, Ausmus said he had many fond memories of those winning years in Houston. “It was fun. Baseball was the sport in Houston and it had been historically a football town,” he said.16

During his years with Astros, Ausmus began to be recognized as a possible manager after he finished playing. Astros manager Phil Garner quipped,“I have to keep him playing, because if he starts managing, he’ll be better than me.”17

During Ausmus’s tenure with the Astros, the team granted him free agency every other year. The first two times Ausmus signed a two-year contract shortly after entering the free-agent market. He signed his last contract, a one-year pact, with the Astros on October 30, 2007. The Astros were planning for J.R. Towles to become their starting catcher in 2008. They felt that the 23-year-old rookie would need some help in adjusting to the majors so they signed Ausmus to be Towles’ mentor as well as the backup catcher.

At the time, Houston general manager Ed Wade said: “Brad is an established veteran catcher with the ability to play a lot. The [team’s] mindset is if we can get 20 more points on the batting average [from Towles] or get a guy to knock in 20 more runs, and we have [Ausmus], who has a great presence behind the plate and who handles pitchers so well, we think we’ve got a pretty complete package going at that particular position.”18

On May 12, 2008, Ausmus got his 1,500th career hit. As of 2018 he was one of only eight major-league catchers to get 1,500 hits and steal at least 100 bases. Although Ausmus mentored Towles, the young catcher struggled. By June, Towles was hitting only .145 and the Astros optioned him to the minors. Ausmus became the starting catcher until Towles returned later in the season.

Ausmus scored his 700th career run on August 12, 2008, in a 12-4 Astros win over the Giants. He became the 25th catcher to reach that mark.19

Toward the end of the 2008 season, Ausmus said it would be his final year in Houston. He said that he wanted to be closer to his family in San Diego, commenting, “Large chunks of time away from home is not in the best interest of my family.” When the season ended, Ausmus had become Houston’s all-time leader for catchers with 1,259 games, 1,119 starts, 970 hits, and 415 runs. The Astros released him on October 31, 2008.

Although he had contemplated retiring, Ausmus signed a one-year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers on January 21, 2009. He would be the backup to Russell Martin. Dodgers manager Joe Torre was impressed with Ausmus and his leadership, and said,“There’s no question he can manage. He’s a smart cookie, everybody knows that, and he has an engaging personality.”20

Ausmus even managed the Dodgers in the final game of the season. Torre had a tradition of letting one player manage the last game of the year if it had no bearing on the standings. Ausmus stood by Torre throughout the game and made all the decisions. When he was asked about it before the game, he said, “I’ll let you know if it was still a good idea in about five hours.” He called on acting hitting coach Jim Thome to pinch-hit in the eighth and after Thome hit a single, he replaced Thome with himself as a pinch-runner.21

The Dodgers released Ausmus after the 2009 season but he signed another one-year contract with the team on January 26, 2010. On April 10, 2010, he was placed on the disabled list for the first time in his 18-year career in the majors. He missed most of the season after having surgery in April to repair a lower-back herniated disc. Ausmus played in only 21 games, the last one on October 3, after which he announced his retirement as a player.

Ausmus finished his career ranked third in major-league history with 12,839 putouts as a catcher, trailing only Iván Rodríguez and Jason Kendall; seventh in games caught with 1,938; and 15th in fielding percentage (.994).

A month after he retired, the San Diego Padres hired Ausmus as a special assistant in baseball operations. “He brings a tremendous amount of experience from his long and successful playing career. We look forward to having him help with the development of catchers throughout our system,” Padres general manager Jed Hoyer said.22

Ausmus was also one of the several Jewish players in major-league baseball when he played. His Jewish background eventually led to his first managing job, with Team Israel in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.  Ausmus’s team won its first two games before being eliminated by Spain in a 10-inning loss.

Ausmus used many of the same skills he had developed during his years as a catcher. As he assembled the club, he compiled information about prospective players on his iPad and index cards. “He told me he felt that he was not just the manager, but the general manager. [T]hat it was a lot of fun choosing his own players. It gave him the feeling he could [manage the team],” said Peter Kurz, president of the Israel Association of Baseball.23

The job of managing the Israeli national team gave Ausmus the opportunity to put into place what he had observed during his playing days. “The best baseball managers I’ve been around have been very good communicators and they understand that in baseball, unlike maybe football or basketball, it’s not so much the “x’s” and “o’s” that you’re managing but [its] people,” he said.24

On November 3, 2013, Ausmus was named the 38th manager of the Detroit Tigers, succeeding Jim Leyland. He had gone right to the majors without any managerial experience in the minors. Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said Ausmus was chosen because “[we] received positive feedback on Brad from players, managers, and baseball executives. Brad had a long-standing career as a player and we feel that he will relate well with the current players. We were most impressed with Brad’s preparation and leadership, which are among his many quality attributes.”25

Although many were surprised by Ausmus’s selection because of his lack of managing experience, Dombrowski said: “Everybody’s different, but playing 18 years at the major-league level would prepare him much more than managing one year at the Double-A level, because the problems he encounters in the major leagues now are so different than what they are at Double A.”26

Ausmus briefly faced controversy in his first season when he responded to a question from a reporter in the middle of a losing streak. After being asked, “How are you when you go home?” Ausmus replied, “I beat my wife.” After a few moments of silence, he quickly apologized. “I shouldn’t say — listen, I didn’t want to make light of battered women. I didn’t mean to make light of that, so I apologize for that if that offended anyone.”27 Although he faced a storm of criticism, Ausmus weathered it and the Tigers soon began to win again.

In his first year as manager, Ausmus led the Tigers to a 90-72 record, winning the American League Central Division title. The Tigers were swept in the Division Series by the Baltimore Orioles. In his second year as manager, the Tigers had a disappointing 74-87 record, finishing in last place in their division.

In his third season as manager, 2016, the Tigers finished in second place in the division with an 86-75 record, 2½ games out of the second postseason wild-card spot. At one point during the season, Ausmus made news when he pulled off his jersey and covered home plate with it. The umpire had ejected him before he’d even stepped out of the dugout but Ausmus still let his frustrations out on the arbiter. He later explained: “There comes a point when you get seven or eight guys coming back from home plate complaining about the strike zone, they can’t all be wrong, I understand sometimes hitters have a skewed view of something, but when you’ve got that many guys coming back, they can’t all be wrong.”28

Ausmus returned as Tigers manager in 2017. The team finished with a 64-98 record, in last place in the division. It was their worst finish since 2003. At the end of the season, the Tigers fired Ausmus. General manager Al Avila explained the team’s decision: “[W]e needed change on the field, we needed change in the roster, and that’s when we started trading players. Let’s just take a whole brand-new road and open up to new things. We felt it’s a new beginning, a fresh start, and we’ll have fresh leadership, new leadership, as we move forward.”29

After the season, Ausmus was reported to be a candidate for several managing positions but got no offers. On November 22, 2017, he was hired as a special assistant to Los Angeles Angels general manager Billy Eppler to help with scouting and evaluations.

Ausmus was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2004. He has embraced his Jewish heritage and is proud to have used it to inspire others. “I have had quite a few young Jewish boys who will tell me that I am their favorite player, or they love watching me play or they feel like baseball is a good fit for them because it worked for me. It has been a sense of pride. If you can have a positive impact on a kid, I’m all for it,” he said.30

Last revised: December 1, 2018

 

This biography appeared in “Time for Expansion Baseball” (SABR, 2018), edited by Maxwell Kates and Bill Nowlin.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also used the Baseball-Reference.com, Baseball-Almanac.com, and Retrosheet.org websites for box-score, player, team, and season pages, pitching and batting game logs, and other pertinent material.

 

Notes

1 David Borges, “Brad Ausmus Connects with Jewish Roots as Manager of Team Israel for the WBC,” New Haven Register, July 22, 2012.

2 Matthew Mosk, “The Rookie,” Dartmouth Alumni Magazine.com, September-October 2014.

3 John Petit, “Astros Ausmus Sky High on Shot at Series,” Meriden (Connecticut) Record-Journal, October 21, 2005.

4 “Tigers Manager Brad Ausmus Learned from Carparelli at Cheshire,” New Haven Register, August 5, 2014.

5 Ibid.

6 Matthew Mosk, “The Rookie.”

7 “Brad Ausmus” Baseball Library.com, bit.ly/2DnqFis.

8 Bob McManaman, “Most Minor-League MLB Players Below Poverty Level,” AZ Central.com, August 16, 2014.

9 “Covering The Plate: A Baseball Catcher Tells All,” NPR.org, August 11, 2011.

10 Timothy De Block, “Astros History: Brad Ausmus,” Crawfishboxes.com, April 17, 2012.

11 Alyson Footer, “Astros Ink Ausmus to One-Year Contract,” MLB.com, October 30, 2007.

12 Dave Davies, “Behind the Plate, a Baseball Catcher Tells All,” WBUR.org, April 6, 2012.

13 Anthony French, “Tigers’ Brad Ausmus Recalls Run with Successful Astros,” Detroit Free Press, August 15, 2015.

14 Maxwell Kates interview with Tal Smith, November 18, 2017.

15 Ibid.

16 Anthony French, “Tigers’ Brad Ausmus Recalls Run.”

17 Pat Cooke, “Who Is Brad Ausmus?,” TheSportsCol.com, November 5, 2013.

18 Alyson Footer, “Astros Ink Ausmus.”

19 Brian McTaggart, “ASTROS NOTES: Brother of Pitcher Wolf Umps Game,” Chron.com, August 13, 2008.

20 “Ausmus Headed to Padres’ Front Office,” Jewish Baseball News.com, November 17, 2010.

21 “Dodgers Catcher Ausmus Is Manager for a Day,” Redlands Daily Facts.com, October 5, 2009.

22 “Brad Ausmus Joins Padres Front Office,” San Diego Padres MLB.com, November 26, 2010.

23 Hillel Kuttler, “On Way to Tigers Post, Ausmus Earned His Managing Stripes in Israel,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, November 7, 2013.

24 Sara Appel-Lemon, “Del Mar Resident Brad Ausmus Hired as Team Israel Manager,” Del Mar Times, September 3, 2012.

25 David Solano, “Detroit Tigers Introduce Brad Ausmus as Team’s New Manager,” WXYZ.com, November 3, 2013.

26 Tyler Kepner, “Fitting the New Managerial Mold,” New York Times, March 7, 2014.

27 Christy Strawser, “Brad Ausmus Misses With Joke About Beating Wife After Loss,” Detroit.CBSlocal.com, June 14, 2014.

28 Jason Beck, “Ausmus Drapes Hoodie on Plate After Ejection,” MLB.com, May 17, 2016.

29 Jason Beck, “Ausmus’ Contract Won’t Be Extended Past ’17,” MLB.com, September 22, 2017.

30 Brad Greenberg, “There’s a New Jew in Dodger Blue,” Washington Jewish Week, July 1, 2009.

Full Name

Bradley David Ausmus

Born

April 14, 1969 at New Haven, CT (USA)

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