End might just be a beginning for Ausmus

End might just be a beginning for Ausmus

LOS ANGELES -- He's stepping aside Sunday, but a lot of people think he'll be managing in the big leagues soon.

Although that sounds just like Joe Torre, it also sounds just like Brad Ausmus.

Ausmus, Ivy League educated at Dartmouth, will hitch on the tools of ignorance one last time when he starts the season finale for the Dodgers behind the plate, catching career game No. 1,938, seventh on the all-time list.

The club plans a pregame tribute to the former All-Star and three-time Gold Glove Award winner, but only if Ausmus can be talked out of warming up starting pitcher Ted Lilly in the bullpen, as he normally does.

"This isn't really the end. It's the beginning of the end," Ausmus said. "Or, near the end of the end. Or, maybe a new beginning. Actually, I'm not really concerned about it. I know it's there. I'm not overly sentimental. Maybe looking back I will be, but not right now. I'm looking forward to going home and spending time with my family. Most people that are close to you understand that this business is very tough on the family."

Taken by the Yankees in the 48th round of the 1987 Draft, Ausmus has been away from his home in Del Mar, Calif., for 18 Major League seasons, away from his wife, Liz, and his daughters, 12-year-old Sophie and 11-year-old Abigail.

"In the past, I was never really sure if I wanted to retire," he said. "Now I'm sure. The kids are starting to get older. And, quite frankly, I don't feel like I can physically perform at a Major League level consistently as I did in the past."

Ausmus went on the disabled list for the first time in his career when he blew out a disk in his back the first series of this season and required surgery. At 41, he could have packed it in. Instead, he rehabbed like a madman, not just to get back, but ahead of the doctor's schedule.

Why?

"Because I was under contract, and I felt I should fulfill the contract," said Ausmus, who was ready to step in when Russell Martin was injured. "We were still trying to win, to make the playoffs."

That's the kind of attitude that makes an impression on teammates.

"He's probably the most generous teammate you could find as far as taking care of younger players," said rookie A.J. Ellis, who was called up from Triple-A to replace Ausmus.

"Early after he got hurt, and I came up, and my family wasn't coming out for six more weeks, and he had just had his surgery, and he asked me what my plans were. I told him I would stay in a hotel. He said, 'That's stupid, I've got an extra room at my place in Manhattan Beach.'

"For six weeks I lived with him on the beach. It made our relationship as teammates stronger. We would carpool driving to the park and talk about the game; we'd get home and watch the late highlights. Brad just loves the game of baseball, but he also understands how difficult it is, and he's never down on teammates. I've learned a ton from him."

On almost any list of players most likely to become managers, Ausmus' name is up high. He will be at the controls of the Dodgers on Friday night -- as he was in a victory at the end of last season -- a fitting farewell gift from the outgoing manager. Torre traditionally designates a player as manager for the last game of the season, but he moved that up a few days because he wants to manage Sunday's finale.

"You knew how good Brad was as a catcher. But for me, it's all about the personality," Torre said. "From the time he stepped in the clubhouse, you could see the leadership ability. His personality is really terrific. He has the ability to manage, and I think he'll be interested in doing that. He's very bright. He reminds me of [Yankees manager Joe] Girardi, except a little less stiff, more relaxed."

Ausmus indicated that he won't immediately jump from retirement as a player into a managing role, but he said the job intrigues him. Ausmus believes that Minor League managing is "not a requirement or prerequisite" for Major League managing.

"In the Minor Leagues, a lot of the decision-making is out of the manager's hands," he said. "The organization wants certain guys to play. They dictate at-bats, innings pitched, pitch counts. Development is the top order in the Minor Leagues, whereas winning is the most important in the Major Leagues.

"Coaching in the Major Leagues -- third base, pitching coach, hitting coach and just being around the manager in the dugout as part of the process -- might be the more prudent way to prepare for Major League managing. The last two years, being a part-time player behind Russ -- which is the extreme of being a backup catcher -- allowed me to be on the bench and watch Joe and to ask questions of [bench coach] Bob Schaefer or Donnie [Mattingly] or Larry Bowa and to learn more about the game.

"I played every day for years, but a day off was a mental break. Being a backup, I needed something to stimulate my mind on the bench. When I'm in the bullpen with [bullpen catcher Mike] Borzello, I try to manage along with the changes. Not playing has allowed me to learn more."

And he has the knack for passing on his knowledge.

"What's amazing is his ability to simplify the game," Martin said. "Greg Maddux falls into that category, and Ausmus is the same way. He makes it a simple game. Some people try to make it too complicated than it really needs to be. You have to be smart to keep it simple."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.