A 1987 draft pick of the New York Yankees, he chose to alternate between attending Dartmouth College and playing minor league baseball. He then had an 18-year major league playing career with the San Diego Padres, Detroit Tigers, Houston Astros, and Los Angeles Dodgers. During his playing days he was an All Star in 1999, a three-time Gold Glove Award winner (2001, '02, and '06), and won the 2007 Darryl Kile Award "for integrity and courage".
A five-time league-leader at catcher in fielding percentage, he also led the league twice each in range factor and in percentage caught stealing, and once each in putouts and assists.
He finished his career in 2010 ranked third in major league history with 12,839 putouts as a catcher (trailing only Iván Rodríguez and Jason Kendall), seventh in games caught with 1,938, and 10th in both range factor/game (7.12) and fielding percentage (.994). He also ranked first all-time among all Jewish major leaguers in career games played (1,971), fifth in hits (1,579), and eighth in runs batted in (607; directly behind Mike Lieberthal). He was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2004. He worked in the Padres' front office as a special assistant from 2010 to 2013. On November 3, 2013, Ausmus became the 38th manager in the history of the Detroit Tigers, succeeding Jim Leyland.
Ausmus is Jewish, and was born in New Haven, Connecticut. His mother, Linda Susan (née Dronsick), is Jewish, and his father, Harry Jack Ausmus, is Protestant. His father is a retired professor of European history at Southern Connecticut State University, and the author of A Schopenhauerian Critique of Nietzsche's Thought, which Ausmus calls his "favorite book."
Ausmus' mother is Jewish, but he was not raised in the Jewish religion. Nonetheless, he still takes pride in his heritage. Ausmus stated in an interview with the Jewish Journal: "I wasn't raised with the Jewish religion, so in that sense I don't really have much feeling toward it. But, however, in the last 10 or so years, I have had quite a few young Jewish boys who will tell me that I am their favorite player or they love watching me play or they feel like baseball is a good fit for them because it worked for me or it worked for Shawn Green or other Jewish players at the major league level. It has been a sense of pride. If you can have a positive impact on a kid, I'm all for it."
In 2001, he did not play on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, quipping that he "was trying to atone for my poor first half." Ausmus was the manager of the Israeli team at the 2013 World Baseball Classic. The Classic's rules permit non-Israeli citizens of Jewish heritage to play for the Israeli team.
Ausmus and his wife, Liz, were married in 1995. They live in New Haven, Connecticut, and have two daughters, Sophie and Abigail.
Ausmus was a star in baseball at Cheshire High School; as a freshman he was a teammate of National Hockey League defenseman Brian Leetch, who was then a pitcher on the school's Connecticut state championship team in 1984. As a sophomore Ausmus played shortstop and batted .327. As a junior (when his coach moved him to catcher) he hit .436, and as a senior he hit .411 and was named the Cheshire Area High School Player of the Year. He was named to the All-State team both his junior and senior years.
Ausmus was also a standout athlete in high school as a basketball guard.
Academically, Ausmus scored a 1220 on his SAT exam.
Ausmus chose an unusual route to the major leagues. He initially refused to sign with the New York Yankees after the 1987 draft in which the team picked him in the 47th round, instead choosing to pursue another childhood dream, that of attending Dartmouth College.
The Yankees allowed him to attend classes at the Ivy League school while playing in the minor leagues during his off terms. (Dartmouth has a quartered academic calendar, which allowed Ausmus some flexibility.) Given NCAA rules barring paid professional athletes from playing college sports, Ausmus could not play for the Dartmouth Big Green, and instead served as a volunteer coach and bullpen catcher.
He graduated in 1991 with an A.B. in Government, and was a member of Chi Gamma Epsilon fraternity and the Sphinx Senior Society. While at Dartmouth, the lowest grade he received was a B. College graduates are uncommon in major league baseball, with only 26 players and managers with four-year degrees in 2009. In 2005, Ausmus became the first Ivy League catcher to play in the World Series since Dartmouth's Chief Meyers in 1916. Ausmus was also one of six Ivy Leaguers on major league rosters at the beginning of the 2009 season. In 2010, The Sporting News named him the ninth-smartest athlete in sports.
Though Ausmus was not drafted until the 47th round of the 1987 draft, he played in MLB longer than any of the 1,150 players drafted ahead of him did.
Ausmus spent five years in the Yankees' minor league system with the Gulf Coast Yankees (1988), Oneonta Yankees (1988–89), Prince William Cannons (1990–91), Albany-Colonie Yankees (1991–92) and Columbus Clippers (1992). He was subsequently selected by the Colorado Rockies with the 54th pick of the 1992 expansion draft. He spent less than a year in the Colorado organization (with the Colorado Springs Sky Sox) before he was traded to the San Diego Padres with Andy Ashby and Doug Bochtler for Bruce Hurst and Greg Harris in July 1993.
He made his major league debut two days later, when he started for the Padres against the Chicago Cubs, and had a single in three at bats. In 1995 he batted .293, a career best, and stole 16 bases (the most by any catcher since Craig Biggio stole 19 in 1991). Within three years, Ausmus was on the move again. In June 1996, after 149 at bats in which he batted just .181, the Padres traded him, Andújar Cedeño and minor leaguer Russ Spear to the Detroit Tigers for John Flaherty and Chris Gomez.
As of 2010, Ausmus was second among the Padres' all-time catchers stolen bases, fourth in hits, and fifth in games played.
Despite bouncing back somewhat in Detroit, hitting .248, Ausmus was again traded in December 1996, along with José Lima, Trever Miller, C. J. Nitkowski, and Daryle Ward, to the Houston Astros for Doug Brocail, Brian Hunter, Todd Jones, Orlando Miller, and cash. This marked the first of three times Ausmus would be exchanged between the two teams.
In January 1999 he was traded by the Astros with C. J. Nitkowski to the Tigers for Paul Bako, Dean Crow, Brian Powell, and minor leaguers Carlos Villalobos and Mark Persails.
Generally considered light-hitting but sure-handed, Ausmus had his best offensive season in 1999 at the age of 30, when he batted .275 and set career highs in on-base percentage (.365) and slugging percentage (.415), and made the All-Star team. He was hit by pitches 14 times, sixth in the league and a career high. Ausmus batted leadoff for the Tigers seven times, the first catcher since Bruce Kimm in 1976 to do so.
In December 2000, he was traded by the Tigers with Doug Brocail and Nelson Cruz to the Astros for Roger Cedeño, Chris Holt and Mitch Meluskey.
In November 2003, he signed as a free agent with the Astros, and he did the same in December 2005. In 2004, he batted .308 against left-handers, and .364 in situations that were "late and close" (in the seventh inning or later, with the score tied or the tying run on base, at the plate, or on deck).
In 2005, he had more walks (51) than strikeouts (48). He batted .304 with two out and runners in scoring position. In 2006, Ausmus hit .230 and set a career high with nine sacrifice hits.
In 2007, Ausmus batted .235, but was tied for second among all National League catchers with six stolen bases. He recorded his 100th career stolen base on July 27, becoming the 21st catcher all time to record that many steals.
Ausmus, lauded for his baseball smarts and highly regarded by teammates, was widely considered managerial material once his playing career ended.
Ironically, Garner was fired on August 27.
Ausmus won the 2007 Darryl Kile Award "for integrity and courage", presented annually by local chapters of the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) to players on the Astros and St. Louis Cardinals. In October 2007, Ausmus accepted a one-year, $2 million (plus incentives based on playing time) contract. The Astros planned for Ausmus to play on a part-time basis and mentor J. R. Towles, who would catch the majority of the games. Were Towles to struggle, however, the Astros were prepared to turn to Ausmus.
In May 2008, Ausmus (along with Johnny Damon, Andruw Jones, and Derek Lowe) was one of only four active major league players who had played at least 10 years in the majors without ever going on the disabled list.
On May 13, 2008, Ausmus got his 1,500th career hit. He is one of only eight catchers in major league history to get 1,500 hits and steal at least 100 bases.
In early June, with Towles batting only .145, the Astros optioned him to the minors and re-inserted Ausmus as a starter. Towles was replaced by journeyman minor-leaguer Humberto Quintero. Towles eventually came back, but during the season Ausmus, at 39, made more starts behind the plate (61) than either Towles or Quintero.
In July, Ausmus played at Nationals Park, appearing in his 44th major league stadium. Among active players, only Chris Gomez (47), Gary Sheffield (47), and Ken Griffey, Jr. (45) had competed in more stadiums.
In August, he scored his 700th career run, becoming the 25th catcher to reach that mark.
Later in the month he said: "This will be my last year in Houston. It's just time to be closer to home." He has a home in San Diego, which narrowed it down to the Padres (which had expressed interest in him), Dodgers, and Angels. The Red Sox were also tempting, since Ausmus had a home near Boston, in Cape Cod.
On Sunday, Aug 24, the Astros played the NY Mets during the Mets International Heritage Week, an annual promotion. It happened to be Jewish Heritage Day, but though Ausmus is Jewish, he did not get to start the game. Ausmus had his only at bat during extra-innings, with the score at 4–4. Ausmus led off the 10th inning with his second homer of the season, and the Astros rallied for a 6–4 win.
Before his final game as an Astro on September 28, the team paid tribute to Ausmus with a humorous video. Ausmus went on to hit a 2-run home run in the 3rd inning of the game.
Ausmus was Houston's all-time leader for catchers as of 2010 with 1,259 games, 1,119 starts, 970 hits, and 415 runs.
On January 26, 2009, Ausmus agreed to a 1-year, $1 million deal (plus incentives) to be a back-up catcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
"There's no question he can be a manager", Joe Torre said. "He's a smart cookie, everybody knows that, and he has an engaging personality." At the end of the season Torre had Ausmus manage the Dodgers for a game.
In 2009, Ausmus batted .295, including .333 with runners in scoring position, and .385 with 2 out and runners in scoring position, while limited to a career-low 107 at bats. He had never been on the disabled list in his 17-year career, giving him the most consecutive seasons of not going on the DL among all active players.
Ausmus became a free agent after the 2009 season, and on January 26, 2010, he agreed to a one-year $850,000 salary deal (with total compensation guaranteed at $1 million) to return to the Dodgers for his 18th major league season. The deal also included a mutual option for 2011 worth $1 million; if either Ausmus or the Dodgers declined the option, Ausmus would be paid $150,000.
In 2010, Ausmus was the 5th-oldest player in the NL. On April 10, 2010, he was placed on the disabled list for the first time in his 18-year career in the Majors. He missed most of the season after having surgery in April to repair a lower back herniated disc, playing in only 21 games that season, and hitting .222.
Ausmus announced his retirement on October 3, 2010.
Prior to 2009, Ausmus had played in the postseason five times, all with the Astros, including the 2005 World Series. In Game 4 of the 2005 National League Division Series against the Atlanta Braves, Ausmus homered with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning to tie the game at 6–6 and send it to extra innings; the Astros went on to win in the 18th inning, in what was the longest postseason game in history. Ausmus caught 17 innings, as well as playing 1 inning at first base.
Known as "a brilliant defensive catcher," "an incredibly smart catcher," and "one of the most respected game-callers and pitching-staff handlers" in the game, In 2010, he was chosen as the ninth-smartest athlete in sports by Sporting News. Ausmus has exhibited superior range at catcher than the league average each season in his career. He is known for his strong arm, quick release, nimble footwork, framing pitches deftly, and smart handling of pitchers, as well as being able to block pitches very well. While the vast majority of his games have been as a catcher, Ausmus has also played a handful of games at first base, second base, third base, and shortstop, all of them without making an error.
He led NL catchers in putouts in 1994, with 683. Ausmus nabbed a league-leading 39 opposing baserunners (41.9%) in 1995, second in the NL to Florida Marlins' Charles Johnson, and led the league's catchers with 14 double plays and 63 assists. On August 2, 1997, he was the first catcher to wear the FOX mini-camera, in a Houston-New York Mets game. In 1997, he had 16 double plays, a career best, and led the league in caught-stealing percentage (49.5%), as he threw out 46 of 93 runners. In 1998, he finished second to Charles Johnson in the NL Gold Glove voting.
In 1999, he led the American League with a .998 fielding percentage. In 2000, he appeared in 150 games (leading the AL), starting 140 (the most ever by a Detroit catcher). He led the league with 68 assists and 898 putouts, and threw out 30 of 74 baserunners attempting to steal (47.5%), second in the AL in that category. In 2001, he led the NL with a .997 fielding percentage and only one passed ball, had the second best caught-stealing percentage (47.7%) in the majors, and won the first of two consecutive National League Gold Gloves with the Astros. He led the league again with a .997 fielding percentage and an 8.40 range factor, while being charged with only two passed balls in 2002. In 2003, Ausmus had a .997 fielding percentage, for the third season in a row. He led the league with a .999 fielding percentage, 884 putouts, and 134 games caught in 2005.
Ausmus led the league again in a league-leading 138 games caught with a .998 fielding percentage (the fifth-best of any catcher ever at the time) and a 7.94 range factor, with a league-leading 929 putouts and only one passed ball, and won his third Gold Glove in 2006. That year he caught the second-most games ever by a catcher at the age of 37—only Bob Boone, with 147 games, caught more at that age.
He made his franchise-record eighth Opening Day start at catcher for the Astros in 2007, breaking a tie with Alan Ashby. On July 22 of that year, Ausmus passed Gary Carter to move into sole possession of second place in major league career putouts by a catcher. In addition, he passed Ted Simmons that day to take sole possession of 12th place all-time on the games caught list, with 1,772. In 2007, he had the second-best fielding percentage (.995) and range factor (8.04) of all catchers in the NL, while being charged with only two passed balls.
In 2008, the Astros named Ausmus as an "emergency infielder." In April, he played second base in the ninth inning of a game, and later in the season he played first base and third base. In 2005, he even played an inning at shortstop. Through 2008, Ausmus ranked ninth all-time in games caught (1,887) and starts at catcher (1,720).
Ausmus's 1,141 games at catcher in that decade ranked second in the majors. As of July 12, 2009, he was third all-time among catchers in fielding percentage.
Among active catchers with at least 600 games played, he finished the 2009 season ranked tied for fourth with a .994 career fielding percentage behind Mike Redmond (.996), Joe Mauer (.996), and A. J. Pierzynski (.995).
He finished his career in 2010 ranked third in major league history with 12,839 putouts as a catcher, trailing only Iván Rodríguez and Jason Kendall, seventh in games caught with 1,938, and 10th in both range factor/game (7.12) and fielding percentage (.994). For his career, he threw out 30.2% of potential basestealers.
On November 3, 2013, Ausmus was named the 38th manager in the history of the Detroit Tigers, succeeding Jim Leyland. In his first year as manager, Ausmus led the Tigers to a 90–72 record, winning the American League Central division title. The Tigers were ousted in that season's ALDS by the Baltimore Orioles, three games to none. In his second year as manager, the Tigers had a disappointing 74–87 record, finishing in last place in their division. In his third season, the Tigers finished in second place in the AL Central division with an 86–75 record, 2.5 games out of the second postseason Wild Card spot. Shortly after the 2016 season concluded, the Tigers announced they would exercise the fourth-year option on Ausmus's contract, keeping him as manager for the 2017 season.
As of games played on August 3, 2017.
Ausmus managed the Israel national baseball team in the Qualification Round to the 2013 World Baseball Classic from May 2012 through their series in September 2012. Team Israel, under the Classic's rules, was entitled to have non-Israeli citizens of Jewish heritage play for the team. Israel lost to Spain in extra innings in the Pool Finals, missing out on a spot in the World Baseball Classic.
Ausmus was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2004.
"I have had quite a few young Jewish boys who will tell me that I am their favorite player, or they love watching me play or they feel like baseball is a good fit for them because it worked for me, or it worked for Shawn Green or other Jewish players at the Major League level", said Ausmus. "It has been a sense of pride. If you can have a positive impact on a kid, I'm all for it."
He appeared on the ballot for the National Baseball Hall of Fame 2016 election and earned zero votes.