This wasn’t like Joe Maddon’s news conference five years ago. That day, we were introduced to a man we didn’t really know well. He’d never been associated with the Cubs, and his Rays teams had played a total of three games at Wrigley Field. So that was a learning experience — as were the entire five years that Joe managed the Cubs.
With Ross, it was kind of like putting on a pair of comfortable old sneakers. You know, the ones you wore for so many happy times in your life, but they had been put aside for a while. Now you’ve got them on again and you remember how good they were.
If you think that means the Cubs are just “putting the band back together” from 2016, that’s not right.
Ross and Theo Epstein specifically said that while they’d like to “take the grind and work and intensity from 2016,” things are different now. There are different players and, as Theo pointed out during the news conference, baseball has changed quite a bit in the way expectations are for players over the last few years and that Ross will chart “a different direction.”
Theo began the news conference by saying that Ross has a “proactive approach to leadership and a natural gift to lead players.” He cited Ross’ preparation and focus and that it was “never enough for him just to show up”. During the last three years, Theo said, ”I saw how he would use those skills in his post playing career, the gifts that he will show as a manager.”
They put Ross’ old No. 3 on his back — so Daniel Descalso (if he’s even still on the team!) will have to change numbers. Ross smiled while donning the jersey and said, “It feels nice to put this thing on. It’s been a while.”
He went on to thank the Ricketts family, Theo and Jed and the entire front office, his family, friends, teammates and coaches “from little league to now, who helped create the person I am today.”
Ross didn’t leave Cubs fans out, either. He thanked them for the way they treated him over the years he’s been associated with the franchise and said: “I expect winning just like you do.”
He was asked about his lack of coaching or managing experience, and addressed it in several ways. First, he noted that he’d looked forward to doing this his entire career and said he felt the last three years in his front-office role had helped prepare him for his moment.
This statement is from a strong leader: “I know what winning looks like, know what to expect from players and myself. Respect, trust, commitment, hard work, accountability.”
But he also talked about being a “manager in the dugout” as a player, something you probably noticed during his two years on the active roster. He said he wants to “be real” with the guys in the dugout, while it might take him a bit longer to work on what he called “the in-game stuff.” He noted that his bench coach will be an important factor — but didn’t say who it might be. In fact, other than that, the coaching staff wasn’t mentioned at all during the approximately 35-minute presser.
Ross noted that in his front-office role, he did some coaching during spring training, especially with the catchers. Just as we have heard about players coming up through the Cubs system, Ross said Theo asked him to “check all the boxes” and he did complete a long list of things he was asked to do.
Asked about his managing style, Ross said he would “manage from a catching standpoint” and let the game come to him and not have “set ways” of approaching game situations. He noted he’s well aware of how fast the game moves and again, his coaching staff is going to be very important to him.
Ross was asked about the “Grandpa Rossy” personality. Chuckling a bit, he said that was kind of a persona created and he had fun with it, but: “Ask any of my friends or ex-players what kind of teammate I was, I never shied away from tough conversations.” He’s not like that in the dugout — said “Just ask Jon Lester about that. Grandpa Rossy is a bit overblown.”
On 2016: “I’ve been a part of many winning teams, almost my entire life, I know what that looks like and I will hold them accountable as well as myself. And I have seen a lot of losing, too, and know how to react to that.” He added, to a question asked about whether he’d be running the team or whether he’d be directed by upper management: “I’ve known these guys for a long time and know their expectations, it will be a collaborative effort. I’ll be making my own decisions, but this is a Hall of Fame front office.”
During his time working for that Hall of Fame front office, Ross said he learned a lot about the day-to-day process of getting ready for a game, the minor league system, part of the draft, seeing all the behind the scenes work, scouts and how much they mean to the organization.
And to being directed by upper management, Theo said: “If you want to hire a puppet, you don’t hire David Ross.” Theo gave an example of a young pitcher called up from the system and how he showed Ross the scouting reports, analytics, etc. on how they thought this pitcher would throw, but Ross gave serious pushback after catching him and telling Theo how he thought this pitcher would be more likely to succeed. (No, we don’t know who this pitcher was — no names were mentioned.) Theo’s conclusion: “He’s absolutely his own man. His teammates knew it, we knew it, and we are proud to partner with him. He’s not a yes-man.”
Accountability is something that’s often been mentioned as part of the issue with the current iteration of the Cubs and one reason Joe Maddon was let go. To that, Ross said that he had an up-and-down career and learned:“Fans expect you to give them all you’ve got and that’s the kind of manager I want to be.” He went on to mention specifically four men he’s played for: Bobby Cox, Terry Francona, John Farrell and Maddon — all of those World Series-winning managers, incidentally. When asked if he’d keep things that Maddon did, Ross acknowledged he’d take some things from Joe, but “I’ll put my own stamp on it.”
He wrapped up by noting that he had also learned a lot from his time at ESPN and talking to different players on other teams from a different angle than he had as a player.
As I mentioned above, no coaches were named at all in this news conference. Ross said that he had texted all the current coaches and would “reach out” to them, but didn’t commit to any specific coach going forward. Many of us have assumed that the current coaching staff might return intact, but I think Ross’ comments left the door open just a little for some changes. It sounds like he might want a new bench coach.
He wrapped his comments addressing 2016, saying he wants to bring back what they all felt in 2016, bringing more championships to Chicago while still moving into the future.
What I heard from David Ross Monday morning were the comments of a man who is clearly comfortable with who he is, confident in his leadership skills and ready to take this team back to the postseason. It might be that his lack of previous coaching experience could be an asset, bringing different viewpoints and a different style to the manager’s seat at Wrigley Field.
It’s just 117 days until the Cubs’ spring training opener February 22 against the Athletics. David Ross — and the rest of the organization — have a lot of work to do in order to bring the Chicago Cubs back to what we expect from them, a perennial playoff team.