A die-hard Red Sox fan who attended Carl Yastrzemski‘s last game in 1983, Ausmus set two goals for himself as a youth: to become a major-league ballplayer, and to attend Dartmouth. Both dreams came true. Ausmus graduated with a degree in government in 1991, and later became a solid big-league backstop, known for his strong arm and smart handling of pitchers. Ausmus, who played high school ball with future NHL defenseman Brian Leetch, was selected by the New York Yankees in the 47th round of the 1987 draft. He initially refused to sign, but eventually relented when the Yankees agreed to allow him to attend classes at Dartmouth while working his way up the minor-league ladder. Ausmus moved to the Colorado Rockies organization in the 1992 expansion draft, and finally made it to the majors when he was traded to the San Diego Padres midway through the 1993 season.
Ausmus was pressed into duty as the regular catcher on the last-place Padres, a team that had used four other catchers that season in an effort to replace the departed Benito Santiago. He kept the job for three years, maturing as a hitter and continuing to enhance his reputation behind the plate. He nabbed 39% of opposing baserunners in 1995, second in the NL only to the Marlins’ Charles Johnson, and swiped 16 bases himself, the most by any catcher since Craig Biggio stole 19 in 1991.
But Ausmus — a notoriously slow starter — hit just .184 in 103 at-bats to begin the 1996 season, and lost his starting job to Brian Johnson in May. A month later, he was traded to Detroit with Andujar Cedeno for John Flaherty and Chris Gomez. After the season, he was sent back to the National League as part of a ten-player deal between Detroit and Houston.
In his first year with the Astros, Ausmus appeared in a career-high 130 games, garnering more than 100 hits, 20 doubles and 40 RBI for the first time in his career and leading the league in caught-stealing percentage. The following season, he finished second to Charles Johnson in the NL Gold Glove voting but was traded back to Detroit in January.
“I don’t put up All-Star-type numbers,” Ausmus always insisted, but he finally earned a chance to attend the Midsummer Classic as the lone Tigers representative in 1999. He had been selected by Yankees manager Joe Torre, who had no idea that Ausmus’ old room in Connecticut still featured a prominent sign: “Yankees Stink.”
Ausmus usually hit second for the Tigers, but started seven games in the leadoff spot –the first Tigers catcher to do so since Bruce Kimm in 1976. He had also never before appeared in more than 130 games as a catcher, but in 2000 Ausmus caught 150 games, starting 140. In doing so, Ausmus also set the AL single-season record for fewest passed balls. However, he didn’t seem to impress the Tigers enough, because he was returned to the Astros in a six-player deal in December.