A brisk wind blows through Comerica Park when Brad Ausmus and the Tigers arrive for a three-game series against the White Sox. Ausmus had the least inkling of suspicion upon arriving – a baseball ops intern typically delivers the series scouting reports; GM Dave Dombrowski himself delivering it was not unprecedented, but it was certainly unusual given the fact that Detroit’s series was a White Sox series with a relatively safe divisional lead. ‘If anything,’ Ausmus muses, ‘he’d have delivered this before the Kansas City series.’
With that asymmetry loitering in his mind, Ausmus raps a hesitant knock on Dombrowski’s door. “Come in,” echoes the murmur from within. Ausmus pressed down, but the handle did not turn.
“It’s locked, Dave,” Ausmus sighs.
“Oh, is it?” Dombrowski crows. “Strange, I’m not used to things being locked down around here. Let me get that,” he assuages as the door opens to Dombrowski’s genial presence. “Come on in,” he continues, ushering in Ausmus and locking the door behind them.
Ausmus’s nervous irritation having been aroused, he takes a seat at Dombrowski’s sophisticated oaken desk upon which sits a simple, unfinished pine box. “My father enjoyed woodworking in his spare time, did you know that?” Dombrowski offhandedly comments, and after Ausmus shakes his head and accepts Dombrowski’s cup of coffee, the GM continues. “It’s true. What he enjoyed most of all, what appeared the simplest, was making the lid to these boxes. Why do you think that was the case?”
Ausmus stammers a guess. “He… maybe because there was a handle on it?”
Dombrowski gives a gregarious chuckle. “No – good guess! – but the handle was very little trouble,” he demures as he unlocks and removes the lid from the human-heart-sized box. “No, my father, he was something of a completionist. He derived satisfaction from being able to close the box. The box is really quite sturdy, but if you can’t lock the lid, then all sorts of things can fall out, you know?”
Ausmus laughs politely, when Dombrowski offers him a pen. Ausmus, now entirely puzzled, bleats, “What is… you’ve given me a pen.”
Dombrowski replies clinically, “Close the box.”
“With the pen?” Ausmus asks.
“You can use anything you’d like to close the box,” the GM intones as he pulls from his desk a Jobu doll and a miniature Texas flag, pushing them across to Ausmus, “Of course, some things are better at closing boxes than others. And if you don’t use the lid – well, any number of things can fall out.”
Dombrowski calmly lifts the box and overturns it, letting the contents – a single scrap of paper – fall out. “What does it say, Brad? On that piece of paper,” Dombrowski whispers.
Brad Ausmus, Manager of the Tigers. Ausmus looks from the scrap paper to the boring eye contact of the general manager. “Brad, what does it say,” Dombrowski calmly demands.
Ausmus reads with an audible hitch, “It says, ‘Brad Ausmus, Manager of the Tigers.'”
“Oh, does it now?” Dombrowski leans back as if to muse, energetically questioning Ausmus. “Imagine that. You know, that Jobu doll, that Texan – can you close the box with those?”
A silence ensues. “Brad? Are you telling me you can’t close the box with those things?”
Ausmus clenches his teeth, releases a caged sigh, and stares intently at the oak panels behind Dombrowski. “I get it,” he tersely responds.
“Sorry, Brad,” Dombrowski playfully replies with a too-hearty laugh, his unblinking eye contact holding taut, “but that wasn’t my question. My question was, can you close the box with the trash sitting in front of you?”
“No,” comes the reply from Ausmus’s pursed lips.
“My. Can’t close the box. Huh,” comments Dombrowski as he stands up to lord over the Comerica stands below his office. “You know, for its simplicity, it’s a really rather sturdy box. My father had the presence of mind to make a sturdy lid. I thank him for that. Say, Brad, do you think you can close the box with the lid?”
After a few seconds of a boiling leer from Ausmus, Dombrowski continues, “I think you can close the box with the lid, Brad. I really do. Now, Brad, I think there might be something written on the bottom of the lid. I’d recommend checking it. What does it say, buddy?”
Ausmus grinds his teeth and growls, “It says, Joakim Soria.”
“That it does, Brad, that it does. Now, I’ve always said you have total control over who closes games. It’s a baseball decision, and you’re a baseball guy all the way through. Brad, believe me when I say you have total control over how you close this box; I mean that,” Dombrowski relates with saccharine sincerity. “Now, Brad: as a baseball man, how would you close this box?”
“I would use the lid to close the box, Dave,” Ausmus arhythmically replies.
Dombrowski clapped and saunters to the door, “Brad, I think we’re on the same page here. The intern will bring the binder with the series scouting report down to the clubhouse. We had a good exchange here today, and I look forward to seeing that box closed.”
As Dave Dombrowski presides over Ausmus’s furious march into the hallway, he closes the door behind him, leaving the door unlocked.
Dombrowski returns to his desk, admires and closes the fine piece of Amish woodwork, and returns to his e-mails.
Letting the baseball man make baseball decisions – that is the code that Dave Dombrowski lives by.