Could Ausmus join the short list of Tigers’ managers who were fired in mid-season?

Top row: Phil Garner and Billy Martin. Bottom row: Less Moss and Buddy Bell.

Top row: Phil Garner and Billy Martin. Bottom row: Less Moss and Buddy Bell.

The Detroit Tigers have hit their first bump in the road.

The hitters aren’t hitting, and the pitchers aren’t pitching.

Nothing seems to be going right.

The base-running has left much to be desired. That is particularly troubling, given the emphasis that was put on running the bases in spring training.

Inevitably, there is a segment of the fan base that will lay the finger of blame on manager Brad Ausmus. It happens all the time when a team struggles in April.

It was imperative that the team get off to a good start, particularly for Ausmus’ sake. And they did, until the Tigers lost consecutive series against Houston and Kansas City, and looked awful in getting swept by Cleveland at home.

Before the season, the pundits agreed that Ausmus would be given a short leash. If things begin to spiral out of control, it could get ugly. But that is looking too far ahead.

Historically, the Tigers have rarely fired a manager while the season was underway. They’ve had skippers resign, they’ve had them traded, and they’ve had them die tragically.

But here’s a look at those managers who were given their walking papers during a season.

Red Rolfe (1952)

As a player, he had been an All-Star third baseman on five Yankee World Series winners. Rolfe had learned under Joe McCarthy, one of the greatest managers ever. He was hired just before the 1949 season by the Tigers, a team that had finished one game over .500 the year before. They were a solid club but in no way considered a contender compared to the likes of the Yankees and Red Sox.

Detroit won 87 games in Rolfe’s first season, good for fourth place. They followed that up with a 95-win campaign in which they finished only three games behind New York in 1950. That was the year that a forest fire may have cost the Tigers the pennant.

Rolfe’s head contained a wealth of baseball knowledge. He was quick with a smile, and an enthusiastic cheerleader in the dugout. And he always gave credit to his men when they did something exceptional on the field.

For his efforts, Rolfe was named Manager of the Year in 1950.

But baseball is a funny game. The Tigers dipped to 73-81 in 1951. Rolfe’s perfectionist ways had begun to wear on his players. After an awful 23-49 start in ’52, he was let go, never to manage again in the big leagues. The Tigers lost 104 games that year.

Jack Tighe (1958)

Previously a catcher and manager in the Tigers’ minor league system, Tighe (pronounced “tie”) joined the big league team as a coach in 1942. He managed again in the minors before making it back to Detroit in 1955, again as a coach. Two years later, at age 43, he became the new Tiger manager, leading the club to a 78-76 season. But his tenure was short-lived. A 21-28 start in 1958 led to his dismissal. Tighe went on to a successful career as a minor-league skipper, including an International League championship with the Toledo Mud Hens in 1968. A baseball lifer, he worked for the Tigers in various capacities until 1990.

Bill Norman (1959)

A former scout and manager in the Tiger organization, Norman took over for the fired Tighe in June of ’58. He steered Detroit to a solid 56-49 record the rest of the way. As a player, Norman had been a prolific minor league hitter, slugging 276 home runs in 18 years, but none in 37 big league games with the Chicago White Sox. Norman was brought back to manage the Tigers in 1959, but was quickly given the shove after a 2-15 start.

Bob Scheffing (1963)

In 1961, Scheffing looked like a genius. After three lackluster seasons at the helm of the Chicago Cubs, the Tigers hired the 46-year-old Scheffing following a lackluster 1960 campaign. A former big league catcher, he took a Detroit club with stars like Al Kaline, Rocky Colavito, and Norm Cash, who had a breakout season, and led them to 101 victories.

The only problem was the New York Yankees won 109.

On September 1, the Tigers headed to the Bronx for a huge weekend tilt, only a game and a half behind the Yanks. But Detroit dropped all three games, two by gut-wrenching walk-offs. It was the beginning of an eight-game losing streak by the Tigers, and a 13-game winning streak by New York, which ended any hopes of a pennant in Motown.

Detroit slipped to fourth place with 85 wins in 1962. Scheffing couldn’t rally his underperforming troops the following year, and a 24-36 start proved his undoing. Charlie Dressen took over, but the season was already lost.

Billy Martin (1973)

Hired before the 1971 season, Martin took a down-and-out franchise sprinkled with aging stars from the 1968 championship team and transformed them into division winners in 1972. But just like he did in every other city he managed in, it didn’t take Martin long to wear out his welcome with management. The final straw came the following year: Martin admitted to ordering his pitchers to throw spitballs as a means of evening the playing field against the Indians’ legendary greaser Gaylord Perry. At the time of his firing, the Tigers were 71-63. He was replaced by Joe Schultz, remembered today as the manager of the 1969 Seattle Pilots, the team made famous in Jim Bouton’s classic memoir, Ball Four. Schultz’s rallying cry in ’69 was “Pound that Budweiser!”

Les Moss (1979)

Fifty-three games into the season, and a game over .500, Moss, the first-year manager of the Tigers, was abruptly let go. The fault was not with Moss, but rather the opportunity the Tigers had to hire former Reds skipper Sparky Anderson, who had been to the World Series four times with Cincy. Sparky had been fired by the Reds back in November of 1978. Moss never managed another game in the big leagues, and we all know the rest of the Sparky story. Moss’s firing, and Sparky’s hiring, was one of the most historic days in the history of Tiger baseball.

Buddy Bell (1998)

Bell’s three-years in Detroit were completely forgettable. In September of ’98, he approached GM Randy Smith demanding to know if he would be retained as manager in ’99. Smith’s answer was to fire Bell then and there. Said team president John McHale: “There’s never a good time to change the flat tires, but sometimes you do what is best at the time.”

Phil Garner (2002)

Brought to town before the 2000 season, Garner guided mediocre Tiger clubs to third- and fourth-place finishes. And then, after six straight losses to start the 2002 season, he was fired along with Randy Smith. Outfielder Bobby Higginson admitted, “You could bring in MacArthur, with what they gave him to work with, and he’s probably not going to come out with more wins.” Team president Dave Dombrowski, who axed the two men beneath him, took over as the club’s general manager.

The common thread through all these firings is that their successors (with the exception of Sparky) didn’t prove to be much better than the skippers they replaced. These were mediocre teams, regardless of the man in charge.

Firing the manager is always an easy option, but a club has to have the horses to compete.