San Diego — As it turned out, it was the final game in a Tigers uniform for both manager Brad Ausmus and second baseman Ian Kinsler. And, as it turned out, it ended up being the one and only game of managerial experience on Kinsler’s vast resume.
Which is significant given Kinsler will be managing Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic in March.
Crazy how things turn out.
“I don’t know if he saw something in me and wanted to give me the opportunity — I just don’t know,” said Kinsler, who crowded into a ballroom on the second floor of the Hyatt Grand Hotel Tuesday afternoon with managers and team officials from every WBC team. “We never really got to discuss that.”
Ausmus was actually paying forward a gesture his former manager Joe Torre made to him at the end of his playing career. Torre had Ausmus manage a game at the end of the 2009 and 2010 seasons with the Dodgers.
“The ceiling is high for Ian,” Ausmus said at the time. “This is just the start.”
Let’s wind it back to that final day of the 2017 season, Sunday Oct. 1 at Target Field. The Tigers had already accumulated 97 losses and it was widely presumed that Ausmus, his contract expiring, would not be returning in 2018.
Kinsler, who the Tigers would trade to the Angels that offseason, was not in the starting lineup. As he was eating breakfast, Ausmus casually walked past him and said, “Hey, you’re going to manage today.”
“You know Brad is pretty dry,” Kinsler said. “So I thought he was just messing with me. I was like, ‘Ah, yeah, OK,’ and just went back to eating my breakfast. He said, ‘No, I’m going to talk to the umpires and see if you can be player-manager. I’ll take a step back and you can manage the team. You can take the lineup card out, make the pitching changes.
“’As long as I inform the umpires, you can do it. Do you want to do it?’”
Kinsler still thought he was being punked.
“It still sounded fishy, like, you’re pulling my chain and trying to mess with me,” he said. “But I did it. It was a good experience. We didn’t talk about it afterward but that’s my only experience to draw off of for this. And it’s nice to have at least something to draw from.”
Kinsler ended up making three pitching changes in a 5-1 loss to the Twins.
He went on to play two more seasons, getting his elusive World Series ring with the Red Sox in 2018. He retired after one season in San Diego in 2019 and then joined the Padres’ front office as special assistant to president A.J. Preller.
But his journey to Team Israel’s manager seat started before that 2017 season.
“Israel contacted me about playing for them in the World Baseball Classic in 2017 but I had already committed to playing for Jim Leyland and Team USA,” said Kinsler, who helped that squad win the gold medal. “In 2019, Israel won the European Championship, which I didn’t even know, and then they asked me to play in the Olympics.
“As an athlete, as a ballplayer, baseball is rarely played in the Olympics. To have the opportunity to play baseball in Olympics, it was a pretty easy decision.”
Those Olympic games slated for Tokyo in 2020 were delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic and were eventually played in July of 2021. Kinsler was 39 years old.
“I went to Israel and got my citizenship,” said Kinsler, who is from Jewish descent on his father’s side. “Then I played in the Olympics, created some relationships and now I’m managing Team Israel in the WBC. It just kind of all came together.”
Any thoughts of continuing on the managerial track, though, will have to wait.
“I could see myself doing it, but I think right now it’s a tough topic,” he said. “My daughter just turned 14 and my son is 11. He plays baseball and she runs track. They’re both in school and I have the opportunity to be part of that.
“But the time may come. My son graduates in seven years if he’s smart enough (laughing). Maybe then.”
No WBC for Greene
Team Puerto Rico reached out to Tigers center fielder Riley Greene several times and from the sound of it, they aren’t giving up on him playing for them in the WBC. But for now, he has politely declined.
“I talked to him,” said Joey Sola, Puerto Rico general manager. “He said he’s not going to be playing. He wants to take those days (in March) to try to make the major league team in Detroit. At least for now, he’s not committed to play for us.”
Sola has assembled a powerhouse team, managed by Yadier Molina. Tigers shortstop Javier Báez will play second base with Francisco Lindor at short and Carlos Correa at third. Not too shabby.
Right-hander Marcus Stroman, who beat Puerto Rico in the championship game for the United States in 2017, will be one of Puerto Rico’s starting pitchers.
But Sola would still love to land Greene.
“It would be huge for us,” he said. “I was really pushing for him to play for us. But he doesn’t want to play. He’s going to be a great player.”
Life without JV
There was a pretty cool moment during Dusty Baker’s winter meetings media scrum Monday.
The World Series champion manager of the Houston Astros didn’t really want to comment on the news that his ace right-hander Justin Verlander had agreed to a two-year, $86 million deal with the Mets. The deal wasn’t official.
But up stood Ben Verlander, Justin’s multimedia brother, and from the moment he said, “Justin speaks highly of you as a person,” Baker couldn’t hold back.
“There are a few players that you have come through…I mean, I’m probably closer to age than him than anybody on the team (laughter),” Baker said. “And I know probably as much about him through (former Tigers manager) Jim Leyland. And Jim Leyland really kind of gave me the roadmap about Justin.
“And I can tell how he feels about his family. He’s told me about you. And I met your mom and dad in Baltimore. And it means a lot. And his mother, your mother, she was very happy that Justin got that win (in Game 5 of the World Series).”
Baker was asked what it was like to manage Verlander, even if for just one season.
“Awesome,” he said. “He’s a man. I told him when the season started, ‘I’ve never managed a Cy Young Award winner.’ And so at the end of the year, when he got his Cy Young, he said, ‘Now you’ve got one.’ He’s a pleasure to manage because I knew what I was getting every day.
“He’s probably gotten a little more humility since he got hurt and was out, and you appreciate what you have now. He has a little girl. That gives you a different outlook on life.”
Mostly, Baker loved the security of being able to give Verlander the ball every five days.
“I love it when I can go full bullpen the day before he pitches, full bullpen the day after he pitches, and then he would stop all losing streaks and prolong winning streaks,” Baker said. “I learned a lot from Justin. And if indeed he is going somewhere, I’m going to miss him.
“But this game is such where you probably stay in contact with certain guys along the way.”