Sunday, June 10, 2012

Extinct Tigers: Brad Ausmus

With little to add to any current discussion about our struggling baseball team, I thought I’d resurrect one of my old gimmicks on the site and take a look at a forgotten hero from the past. Previous “Extinct Tigers” pieces have looked at “legends” like Skeeter Barnes and Paul Bako.

But with many talking about possible trades and actual trade deadline looming next month, I can’t help but reflect on a favorite of mine that was always nervous around trade time. That’s because Detroit traded him or traded for him multiple times. I’m of course speaking of ex-Tiger catcher, Brad Ausmus.

In 18 years in the Major Leagues, Brad won three Gold Gloves and made his only All-Star team as the Tigers representative in 1999. For his career, he hit .251/.325/.344 with 80 home runs and 607 RBI. Three of those years were in Detroit where Ausmus hit .266 with 20 HR and 127 RBI. But it was his defense and leadership that were his strengths and why he was the on-field leader of some of those otherwise awful Tiger teams of the late 90’s/2000.

Ausmus also happens to be Jewish and ranks first all-time in games played by a Jewish MLB ballplayer. (Don’t tell Delmon.) He ranks fifth in hits and eighth in RBI, as well. But no one could see that coming from his beginnings.

Brad was a high school teammate of NHL legend Brian Leetch, who was a pitcher back then for Cheshire High School. In the 1987 MLB Draft, the Yankees took Ausmus way back in the 48th round. Crazy to think that Brad would go on to play more professional games than any of the 1,150 players drafted ahead of him.

After five years in the Yankee minor league system, Ausmus was selected by the Rockies in the expansion draft and then quickly traded in 1993 to the Padres with Andy Ashby and Doug Bochtler for pitchers Greg Harris and Bruce Hurst. Two days later, he made his MLB debut going 1-3. By 1996, he was struggling and hitting under.200. Enter the Tigers, who loved guys hitting below the Mendoza line even then. Detroit offered up John Flaherty and Chris Gomez to San Diego and received Ausmus, shortstop Andujar Cedeno, and minor leaguer Russ Spear.

Brad arrived in Detroit and his average jumped over 50 points, hitting .248 in 75 Tiger games. But that December, he was sent to Houston with Jose Lima, Trever Miller, CJ Nitkowski, and Daryle Ward for Doug Brocail, Orlando Miller, Brian Hunter, future all-time Tigers save leader Todd Jones, and cash. This would be the first of three times Brad would be exchanged between Detroit and Houston. Oh, that wacky Randy Smith.

In 1999, Ausmus and Nitkowski would be sent back to Detroit for Paul Bako, Brian Powell, and three minor leaguers that never amounted to anything. Brad responded by putting together probably his best year in the bigs with a .275 average, .365 OBP, and slugging .415. That, plus his great defense led to the All-Star appearance I mentioned earlier. Fun side note: Ausmus led the AL in being hit by pitch that year with 14 owies. But a year later, Houston reacquired him, Brocail, and Nelson Cruz (pitcher, not the Tiger-killer) for Chris Holt, catcher Mitch Melusky, and Roger Cedeno. Boo!

Brad finally called it quits after the 2010 season with the Dodgers. Currently, he is Special Assistant to Baseball Operations with the Padres, whatever that means. Also, he is set to be the manager of Isreal’s WBC team that will try and qualify for the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

Though he only spent parts of three seasons (352 total games) with Detroit, Ausmus was the best of the group of catchers between Tiger icons Mickey Tettleton and Pudge Rodriguez. I always admired the way he played the game and wish we could have seen more of him. Look for him to be a MLB manager someday if he chooses. A guy as smart as Ausmus can’t help but succeed in such a role.

EDIT: After originally posting this, I heard from a member of the Israeli national team who sent along this pic of him and Brad from last week.
Give him a follow on Twitter at @ZackDaniels67. He was born in Detroit, lives in Isreal, and is a fan of the Tigers, Lions, and Wings. Good luck to him and his teammates.


kalinecountry said...

Mazel Tov Brad and Rogo.

H2OPoloPunk said...

Three cheers for Jewish Tigers!