(JTA) — Almost from the moment they met him, several officials and players with Israel’s national baseball team said they saw manager Brad Ausmus headed for the major leagues.
They cited his communication skills, command of the game and preparation — not to mention his 18-year playing career as a catcher that included winning three Gold Gloves and reaching the 2005 World Series with the Houston Astros.
“We knew that even though he’d never had any managerial experience, he’d go and be a major league manager,” said Nate Fish, the bullpen catcher for an Israeli squad that came up short in its bid for the World Baseball Classic. “The overall chemistry was at a very, very high level, and Brad was very professional. He created a very good environment in the clubhouse.”
Fish and the others proved prophetic: Ausmus, 44, was introduced Sunday as the manager of the Detroit Tigers, succeeding Jim Leyland.
Ausmus joins a short roster of Jews who have managed major league teams, which includes current Oakland Athletics manager Bob Melvin — both have Jewish mothers and non-Jewish fathers. The first was one of the earliest Jewish players, Lipman Pike, an outfielder-infielder who managed the Cincinnati Red Stockings in 1877. In the WBC qualifiers, Israel won its first two games before being eliminated by Spain in a 10-inning loss.
“Brad did a great job of managing the entire tournament, especially the [elimination] loss, which he handled with dignity and class,” said Gabe Kapler, who coached for Team Israel alongside Ausmus, his former Tigers teammate, and now is a Tampa Bay Rays consultant.
His age and long playing career helped Ausmus earn respect from the Team Israel players, officials and players said.
Ausmus was so refined in his attention to detail, said Peter Kurz, president of the Israel Association of Baseball, that the team practiced keeping on its caps for the playing of “Hatikvah,’ the Israeli national anthem, following Israeli custom.
In assembling the club, Ausmus compiled information on prospective players on his iPad and index cards. His recruiting effort also included calls to scores of candidates, as well as their parents.
His work not only before but during the WBC qualifying “made our team legitimate,” Kurz said. The experience apparently assured Ausmus, a Connecticut native educated at Dartmouth, that his post-playing career inclination was accurate.
“He told me he felt that he was not just the manager, but the general manager — that it was a lot of fun choosing his own players. It gave him the feeling he could do it,” Kurz said.