The Detroit Tigers made both a stunning and historic move Tuesday.
They let go of longtime general manager Dave Dombrowski, architect of the Marlins’ 1997 World Series champion and two pennant winners in Detroit, and named South Florida native Al Avila his replacement, making the 57-year-old Hialeah High graduate the first Cuban-born general manager in baseball history.
Avila was Dombrowski’s top assistant.
Marlins president of baseball operations Mike Hill was the first Cuban-American GM in baseball; his mother was born in Cuba.
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Avila, who graduated from St. Thomas University in 1986 and spent nearly 10 years with the Marlins from 1992 to 2001, will assume all responsibilities related to baseball operations of the Tigers and will report directly to team owner Mike Ilitch.
“I would like to thank Dave Dombrowski for his 14 years of service,” Ilitch said in a statement released by the Tigers. “Together, we’ve enjoyed some success, but we’re still in aggressive pursuit of our ultimate goal: to bring a World Series title to Detroit and Michigan. I’ve decided to release Dave from his contract in order to afford him the time to pursue other career opportunities. I feel this is the right time for the Tigers to move forward under new leadership.”
Dombrowski’s contract was set to expire at the end of the season and the 59-year-old is expected to become a hot commodity this off-season with the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Angels as potential landing spots.
Avila, meanwhile, was thrilled with his promotion.
“I’m very excited for this opportunity, and honored and grateful to Mr. Ilitch for having the faith and trust in me to run the ballclub in our continuing pursuit of a World Series championship,” Avila said in the statement. “After 24 years in professional baseball and 14 with the Detroit Tigers, I believe I’m uniquely qualified to be successful in this role in leading this organization. We’re confident we can make a strong push to win this year, and that we have the foundation in place to win next year and for years to come.”
The Avila family has deep roots in South Florida and in baseball.
Al’s father Ralph was hired as a scout by the Dodgers in 1970 and two years later he developed a feeder program in the Dominican Republic that has since flourished throughout baseball. Ralph eventually retired as vice president of the Dodgers.
Al Avila’s eldest son Alex, a former standout at Archbishop McCarthy in Broward County, is the starting catcher for the Tigers. Alex’s godfather is Tommy Lasorda.
Al joined the Marlins as the assistant director of Latin American operations in 1992, after a four-year stint as the director of athletics and baseball head coach at St. Thomas.
Avila climbed the ladder with the Marlins from there. He was promoted to director of Latin American operations, director of amateur and international scouting for the Marlins and eventually vice president and assistant general manager under Dombrowski.
Among the Marlins Avila helped bring in during his tenure either through the draft or free agency: Josh Beckett, Livan Hernandez, Alex Gonzalez, Luis Castillo and Miguel Cabrera.
Avila served as Florida’s interim general manager in 2001 before leaving the Marlins after nine seasons to become special assistant to the general manager with the Pirates in 2002. After just three months, Avila left for Detroit and joined the Tigers’ front office in the same role.
“Al Avila is a true baseball man,” Ilitch said. “He’s been involved in every facet of the game as a college head coach, scout and executive. His track record in identifying and developing talent is extremely impressive. I’m confident that Al will bring his own approach and his own style to the general manager position.”