04/08/2002 9:11 pm ET
Dombrowski takes charge
Now full-time GM and team president
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
DETROIT -- Barely two weeks ago, Tigers president Dave Dombrowski was gladly talking about the working relationship he was enjoying with general manager Randy Smith.
A week into a season that was obviously no longer the case. Monday, with the Tigers at 0-6, Dombrowski decided he could do the job better himself.
Dombrowski named an interim manager in Luis Pujols to replace Phil Garner, but he's taking on Smith's GM duties full-time in addition to his roles as president and chief executive officer. That means that while he stands in charge of the business of luring fans back to Comerica Park, he's also the man rebuilding an on-field product that is coming off of nine straight losing seasons.
"I plan on remaining as general manager and president both," he said. "That is my long-term decision."
He pulled such double duty in Florida, serving the previous two years as team president and GM. In Miami, however, he had a hands-on owner in John Henry, who watched nearly every game in person and made many road trips. Dombrowski pulled it off in large part thanks to his management team of assistant GMs -- John Westhoff, Scott Reid, Al Avila and Dave Littlefield.
In Detroit, owner Mike Ilitch has made Dombrowski the man in control on the business and baseball ends. When Ilitch fielded the call this morning about the proposed changes, Dombrowski said, "He pretty much left the decision up to me.
"Of course, if he wanted to talk me out of it, I would've had to listen."
The decision flows with something else that Dombrowski said in Spring Training, that this is about as big a role he can play running a baseball team without having the financial backing to become an owner.
He has at least half of his support staff in place from Florida. Reid is the assistant GM with an eye toward scouting. Westhoff is a vice president and legal counsel in charge of negotiating contracts. Smith's assistant GM, Scott Bream, has been offered a scouting job instead.
Dmitri Young signed a long-term contract this winter in part because he knew Dombrowski was in charge. As much as he liked Garner, he knew these moves were likely to come.
"Yeah," Young said, "but not so soon."
Left fielder Bobby Higginson agreed.
"To fire somebody six games in, that had to be something that he thought about. You don't just come in one day and say, 'This team is playing [lousy].'"
Once Dombrowski had Ilitch's approval, the moves were quick. He let Smith know early in the afternoon, then told Garner his services were no longer needed. He met with Pujols, then the players.
"He didn't beat around the bush," said right fielder Robert Fick, one of Smith's bigger fans. "He didn't let things linger. From everything that you read, they always say new guys coming in like to bring in their own people."
Dombrowski defended the timing with the need to observe Smith and Garner in action from a close perspective. He let Smith handle all the baseball personnel decisions. Once he gathered those observations, he didn't like what he saw.
"You hope you're not going to come to this decision," Dombrowski said. "But my assessments were if we were going to become a championship organization, we were going to have to make some changes. [Last winter], I couldn't have given you the same evaluations that I did now. I hadn't watched, really."
Smith's flurry of activity near the end of Spring Training might have given Dombrowski some perspective. Smith said that once he felt like he might have a .500 club, he acquired complementary pieces with infielder Damian Jackson and reliever Jose Paniagua -- two guys who also happen to be veteran players.
Dombrowski wouldn't give his assessment of where he expected this team to finish, only that he expects them to play better.
"We're significantly better than a zero winning percentage," he said. "I think we're better than we were last year with the win-loss record. I don't think we're a championship-caliber club. You can take those assessments from there."
He is far more specific, however, when asked about his vision of building a team. He likes a solid defense up the middle and power at the corners. He would like left-handed pitching for this ballpark to take advantage of the deep left field that swallows what would be home runs in other cities.
"I like to have athletes," Dombrowski said. "I think this ballpark is built a lot toward National League play. We are fortunate that our minor league system has players like this coming."
If these Tigers -- heavy on right-handed pitching and first basemen/designated hitters -- continue to struggle, that won't be much consolation to the Major Leaguers who have been here a few years.
"If they want to bring up all the younger players, fine. Let me go," said Higginson, who has a no-trade clause but indicated Monday he'd waive it if the club chooses to rebuild. "I'd want to go. When are you going to win if you go with all the young guys?"
Higginson was nearly traded three years ago by Smith before Garner, who had just arrived from Milwaukee, spoke in his defense. This time, all Higginson wants from Dombrowski is a sense of direction.
"You can't just start fresh in the seventh game of the season," Higginson said. "Now there's no time to evaluate. It's on the job. I'd like to at least have somebody tell me what's going on around here.
"You'd like to see this organization one time take a direction and stick with it. We hire a new GM, then a new manager, then a new president. You've got to get on the same page, man."
In the case of president and GM, it's not only the same page, but the same man.
Jason Beck covers the Tigers for MLB.com. This article was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.