David Ross has seemed like the logical candidate to succeed Joe Maddon as Cubs manager from the moment he retired as a player.
I think most of us would have hoped that it would be upon Maddon’s retirement, with perhaps Ross serving as bench coach for a year or two, but here we are.
I’ll just say it right here: Ross is my preference for the position. The rest of this post is to explain the reasoning behind my choice.
First, let’s look at the managers Ross played for in his big-league career. In order: Jim Tracy, Lloyd McClendon, Pete Mackanin, Bruce Bochy, Jerry Narron, Mackanin again, Dusty Baker, Terry Francona, Bobby Cox, Fredi Gonzalez, John Farrell and Maddon.
That’s quite the group. There are Hall of Fame managers, guys who at one point seemed like the “new wave” of managers who didn’t work out, a couple of baseball lifers, and the same interim guy twice for different teams.
No doubt, there will be influence on Ross’ managerial style, if he’s the one chosen, from some or all of those men. I want to call your attention to one in particular. I wrote about him in my review of Ross’ book “Teammate” here two years ago:
You have all heard the stories about how Ross was viewed as a leader in the Cubs’ clubhouse and a great teammate (thus the title of the book).
What I didn’t know and was fascinated to read was that none of this would have been possible without Dusty Baker.
Yes, that’s right, Dusty. The former Cubs manager was in his first year of managing the Cincinnati Reds (2008). Ross was unhappy about reduced playing time and let Dusty know. Eventually this led to Ross being unconditionally released, and just a few days later signed by Theo Epstein’s Red Sox.
This chain of events made Ross think quite a bit about what it meant to be a good teammate, and he resolved at that time to work hard to do everything he could to achieve that goal. The description of how he went about this is one of the most fascinating things about the book, and indeed about the career of a man who was a backup catcher, but who became an important figure in the history of two baseball teams.
Ross did do all that hard work to become a good teammate, and over time he became a respected clubhouse leader, exactly the sort of guy Theo Epstein knew he needed in the Cubs clubhouse when Maddon, a mostly hands-off manager, was hired. Ross was exactly that for a young group of Cubs, holding them accountable during spring-training drills and not holding back from getting into their faces when he needed to in the clubhouse.
Watch Anthony Rizzo’s tribute to Ross at the World Series rally and you can see how much Ross means to him and this team:
It has been said by some that they’d be concerned that Ross might be “too close” to some who he played with on the 2016 World Series champions.
There are only 12 players left from that team: Rizzo, Willson Contreras, Javier Baez, Addison Russell, Kris Bryant, Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Ben Zobrist, Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester and Pedro Strop.
That number is likely to drop as some of those players could depart by retirement, free agency or trades before the 2020 season begins.
And I don’t think this is a concern at all. Remember how, during 2017 when the team was struggling, many people said the Cubs “miss David Ross.” That was true — but it wasn’t the camaraderie they missed, it was the accountability. Theo Epstein tried to bring that accountability in with other “good clubhouse guys.” Jon Jay was here for that reason, but though Jay seemed a fine guy to have on the ballclub, he didn’t bring what Ross did. And Daniel Descalso, supposedly here for the same reason, was praised for his work ethic and clubhouse “presence,” whatever that would be for a guy with a .521 OPS, but it’s difficult to drop someone like that into a veteran group like the Cubs now have and expect him to be a “leader.”
Granted that Ross would be in a different role if hired as manager, I think he’s the right guy. What he did as a respected elder teammate in holding players accountable, he could certainly do as manager. He’s been out of the game in a fulltime capacity for three years, while still staying around it as a special assistant in the front office and also broadcasting games for ESPN.
He has no managing or coaching experience. Neither did Aaron Boone when he took over for Joe Girardi with the Yankees. Two 100-win seasons have resulted. Granted, the Yankees have great talent — but Boone has also made it work when it seemed like the Yankees lost significant players to injury every other week. Guys like Giovanny Urshela, Mike Tauchman, Mike Ford and Luke Voit became stars with the Yankees under Boone. After Joe Girardi’s boot-camp style in New York, Boone seemed more laid-back and that often happens with such a change in style.
It’s somewhat the reverse with the Cubs. We’ve had Joe Maddon’s hippie-peace-love leadership for five years, and it was just what this team needed to throw off the 108-year drought. Now, perhaps a harder edge is needed. You might think that edge could be provided by Girardi, but I noted yesterday why I don’t think what Girardi has would work in Chicago. Girardi seems a much better fit for the Mets, where he is already a master of the New York media.
Hiring Ross would be popular with a fanbase upset with the non-renewal of Maddon. Having said that, Theo Epstein should not hire Ross for this reason. Ross’ acceptance by fans would simply be an ancillary benefit. Ross knows the organization well from his two years as a player and time as a special assistant, and he also played for Theo with the Red Sox (2008). After dancing around the topic, once Joe Maddon was let go, Ross expressed his interest in the job and Theo said that interest was mutual.
Just as five years ago, Joe Maddon was the right manager for that moment in the history of the Chicago Cubs, I believe that at this moment in that long franchise history, David Ross is the right guy for he job. I hope the Cubs hire him.
Should the Cubs hire David Ross as manager?
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