DETROIT—If the Detroit Tigers had been in the market for a new manager last offseason, there would have been at least one pretty clear possibility for the job—two-time World Series champion Terry Francona.
“Last year, I thought there was an obvious name out there, that was a real blue-chip candidate to manage a good club,” general manager Dave Dombrowski said. “That was Terry Francona. I don’t have a name like that out there this year.”
Francona was hired by the Cleveland Indians, who nearly caught Detroit for the AL Central title this season. This year, it’s the Tigers who are changing managers after Jim Leyland stepped down Monday.
Detroit is in a unique position. Managing the talented Tigers should be an attractive opportunity, but the job will also be a pressure-packed one as Detroit tries again to win the World Series for the first time since 1984.
“We’ll find somebody that’s good,” Dombrowski said. “They’ve got some tough shoes to fill, but we’ll find somebody that can handle the club.”
The Tigers have won three straight division titles, and they went to the World Series twice in Leyland’s eight years as manager. With Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander still in their primes, Detroit should have every opportunity to reach the postseason again in 2014, so the new manager will face immediate expectations.
The Tigers can offer a manager a chance to win right away, although they’re not the only team that can make that claim. The Washington Nationals, who have their own star-studded roster with Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, are seeking a replacement for Davey Johnson.
The Cincinnati Reds, who fired Dusty Baker after a 90-win season, went with pitching coach Bryan Price as their new manager.
“Whoever steps in here has to be able to manage a club that has a chance to win right now, and handle some very good, established major league players,” Dombrowski said. “I have always been a strong advocate of having managerial experience. Not necessarily always at the major league level, but I think it’s important because those are tough shoes to fill and there’s a lot that’s involved in it. So I think it’s very important that that person know how to deal with as many issues as they possibly can.”
Lloyd McClendon and Gene Lamont, two members of Leyland’s staff in Detroit, have managed in the majors before, although the 66-year-old Lamont is only two years younger than Leyland. Tom Brookens, who coached third base this year for Detroit, has managed in the minors as recently as 2009.
Kirk Gibson, who led the Tigers to a World Series title as a player in 1984, is managing Arizona now, but Diamondbacks President Derrick Hall said Monday that Gibson had indicated he did not want to leave his current job.
If there’s a precedent the Tigers can hope to repeat, it took place three decades ago, when Joe Altobelli took over for Earl Weaver and led the Baltimore Orioles to a World Series title in 1983 in his first year at the helm. That’s proof that you don’t always need a big name in charge to succeed.
More recently, the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series in 2011 under Tony La Russa. Mike Matheny succeeded La Russa after that season, and the Cardinals haven’t missed a beat, advancing to the NL championship series in 2012 and the World Series this year.
“I don’t know if you could ask for a better situation. You have a group of guys, one, who are talented, obviously, but experienced, as well,” Matheny said. “I didn’t come in expecting to ever replace a Hall of Fame-caliber manager like Tony La Russa. I came in to do what I could do and let these guys know that we’re going to do a lot of learning along the way. I need you guys to step up, just like I need the staff to step up, and both the guys and the staff were able to do so to address the problems as they came.”
Leyland’s one-of-a-kind personality will be difficult to replace, but the Tigers have built themselves into a stable, winning organization over the last decade, and whoever takes over in the dugout will inherit a group of players with every intention of winning another division title next year.
“I have no idea what type of manager we should have,” outfielder Torii Hunter said. “They’re not Jim Leyland, you’re going backward. But hopefully we can get some guy in here who has a lot of energy, a lot of fun, smart, knows how to play the game, and we don’t have to second guess.”