If you don’t believe me regarding David Ross’ qualifications to be the next Cubs manager, perhaps you’ll believe Joe Maddon.
Sun-Times writer Gordon Wittenmyer asked Maddon about Ross recently, and the answers are illuminating:
‘‘I would love for David to get it,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘He checks all the boxes, except he hasn’t done it before. They’ll put the right people around him and give him the right information. David’s really smart.’’
Having been a catcher, Ross understands the pitching side of the game better than most, said Maddon, also a former catcher.
‘‘Those are the toughest parts to learn,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘I think he’s got a real leg up.’’
He said he wishes Ross would have agreed to become his bench coach at some point after finishing his playing career with Game 7 of the World Series in 2016. Ross declined to be considered for the job a year ago.
‘‘I’m a big David fan,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘One of the biggest reasons I can say I’m a World Series champion [manager] is because of him.
‘‘If he would take the job next, there’s nothing I would love more than that.’’
That, in my view, is an outstanding endorsement from someone who has been a successful manager for the last 13 seasons and who changed Cubs culture and brought us the World Series championship we’ve always dreamed of.
Of course, Maddon isn’t the one doing the hiring — Theo Epstein is. And Theo’s history with Ross goes back a long way, years before he signed Ross to be the Cubs backup catcher for the 2015 season.
Patrick Mooney details some of that history in this article in The Athletic:
“By the time the playoffs came around, he was respected enough that we invited him into our advance scouting meetings,” Epstein wrote in the foreword to “Teammate,” Ross’ New York Times bestselling memoir. “Again, I didn’t expect much from David. These are big, important meetings with the front office, manager Terry Francona and the whole coaching staff. Typically, advance scout Dana LeVangie and Varitek — both expert in this role — would take the lead breaking down opposing hitters, and pitching coach John Farrell, Tito, and a few of us in the front office would chime in.”
“The third-string catcher was not usually present, let alone vocal,” Epstein wrote. “Except for David. He spoke up early and often, in a strong and authoritative voice, making insightful points about every opposing hitter. He wasn’t afraid to disagree, even with Varitek, and quickly won over the room. By the third or fourth hitter we discussed, others were deferring to Ross, the backup’s backup who up until the last six weeks had spent his entire career in the other league.”
There’s more in Mooney’s article about what Theo told Ross regarding the reputation he’d gotten when he was released by the Reds — supposedly that Ross had not been a good teammate and hadn’t accepted his role as a backup. This is the polar opposite to the Ross we know now. A lot of the detail about how Ross changed his baseball life is detailed in his book “Teammate.” I note some of that in my review of the book that I posted here when it was published two years ago.
Some of you are in favor of the Cubs hiring Joe Espada, the Astros bench coach, as Cubs manager. Espada was reported to have impressed Theo:
Houston source tells me Astros coach Joe Espada had a sensational interview w/Cubs front office. “He gave Theo + Jed a lot to think about. They really liked him + came away exceptionally impressed. Was it enough to overcome David Ross’s relationship w/Theo and Jed? We’ll see.”— David Kaplan (@thekapman) October 17, 2019
That’s a solid endorsement of Espada, but personally, I will take Joe Maddon’s endorsement of Ross, who he obviously knows quite well. Here’s another thing noted about Maddon, from Wittenmyer’s article:
Maddon, who carried around a computer as a minor-league instructor long before it was common, insists he’s ‘‘into the numbers.’’ But there might not be another manager in the game today with Maddon’s ability to read people and draw strengths out of players, a common thread when players, staff and bosses from his past talk about him.
‘‘That’s why I don’t stay in the dugout during the game, why I stand on the steps,’’ he said. ‘‘Feel your room. Feel your guys. You’ve got to feel everything going on around you.
‘‘It exists. Feel exists.’’
I agree with that 100 percent. Not everything can be boiled down into numbers and analytics in baseball. Human beings play the game, and sometimes “feel” is important.
I think David Ross has that ability, too, to feel both the positive and the negative (if there is any) surrounding the game and the Cubs players who would be playing for him. I hope Theo Epstein hires him to be the next Cubs manager.