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Published: Friday, 11/8/2013

SPORTS COMMENTARY

McClendon learns there’s no sure thing

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

He apparently didn’t have a whole lot of input, and he knew there would be other candidates, but Jim Leyland expected that Lloyd McClendon would be his successor as manager of the Detroit Tigers.

Instead, Brad Ausmus knocked his interview out of the park and got the job in Detroit. McClendon took on a consolation prize, of sorts, getting the task of managing the forever-rebuilding Seattle Mariners, who have experienced losing seasons in eight of the last 10 years.

McClendon would have been a logical choice for the Tigers, ensuring a sense of comfort and continuity to a mostly veteran roster that saw postseason play as something of a given under Leyland. Mac was on his staff in Detroit for eight seasons that included four trips to the playoffs and two World Series berths.

Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers’ president-general manager, admitted McClendon was front and center on his radar before Ausmus came along.

“I said all along we’d hire [McClendon] in a minute,” Dombrowski told the Seattle Times, “but we needed to follow through with the process and see if someone knocked our socks off. And Brad did.

“For us, it was really that we found someone in Brad Ausmus we think has tremendous upside potential. If it wasn’t for that, Lloyd would have been a great choice.”

Whether Tigers fans would have agreed is another issue. Outside of the manager, nobody is a greater lightning rod than a team’s hitting coach, which was McClendon’s job under Leyland the last seven seasons.

If Miguel Cabrera is winning the Triple Crown, all is well. If Prince Fielder has zero RBIs in 40 playoff at-bats, not so much.

In reality, how much a hitting coach impacts either of those scenarios is something of a mystery to both the serious and casual fan. If the job was easy, everybody would hit .320. If there was a magic elixir for a slump the word wouldn’t exist.

To insiders, though, McClendon is considered a savvy baseball man who was respected throughout the Tigers’ clubhouse. He was 336-446 in five years as manager in Pittsburgh in the early 2000s, when nobody could have done much better, and Leyland has been saying for several years that he was stumped why a more-seasoned McClendon had not received a second chance.

Now he’ll get it. But not in the Motor City, where Dombrowski handed the keys to one of baseball’s best rosters to a first-time manager who has no experience in either the major or minor leagues.

Smartly, he and Ausmus will keep at least a couple familiar faces on the coaching staff.

Ausmus announced that Gene Lamont, Leyland’s bench coach, would remain in that position. Dombrowski said Ausmus had total say over his coaching staff, although Lamont’s appointment was perhaps a matter of Ausmus embracing a strong suggestion.

Either way, it’s a good move, providing a wise old head off which Ausmus can bounce ideas and strategies. Interestingly, when Lamont interviewed for the Boston managing job two years ago, he dropped Ausmus’ name as a possible bench coach.

Jeff Jones returning as pitching coach is a no-brainer considering the history and rapport he has with one of the game’s strongest rotations.

So it will be a blend of old and new leading the 2014 Tigers.

But there are no sure things in baseball, which is why Leyland’s heir apparent is the new manager in Seattle.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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