The headline to this article reflects, I think, Craig Counsell’s approach to taking the job of Cubs manager. During his introductory news conference, he confidently stated: “It’s time to be a Cub.”
Throughout the presser he laid praise on Cubs President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer and said that the organization seems to be in “great health” and that Hoyer presented a “compelling vision.” Counsell said he feels like the team is “close” and that there’s an “exciting future.”
You, too, should share those thoughts about the Cubs, who came close to a postseason spot in 2023 until a late-season collapse finished them at 83 wins, just short of a wild-card spot.
Counsell said he took the job because he wanted a “new challenge” and to push himself. He said he could feel that Wrigley Field is a “special place” just walking in the door, that he could feel the energy and said “it’s a place you already know demands your best.” He thanked Hoyer and the Ricketts family for being so welcoming to him and his family. Counsell’s wife and two daughters attended the presser, and Counsell said he hoped his two college-age sons “were in class.”
It was, for Counsell, “an emotional week, harder than I imagined. I had 17 years of relationships and the Brewers have meant a lot to me.” He wants to build in Chicago, he said, the same realtionships I have there. The connection to people is what makes this go, connection to staff, players and fans. This was a theme Counsell hit on several times during the presser, the word “connection” appearing quite a number of times in his replies to reporters’ questions.
As for Hoyer, he said he’d always admired Craig from afar, how he got the most out of every team he had, the cohesiveness of the roster and clubhouse and how his teams played with intensity. Those are the kinds of things I’m reasonably sure we’ll get from Counsell as Cubs manager. This is not to say that David Ross didn’t do some of those things, but every manager is different.
As for Ross, Counsell took time to say that Ross is a “good man.” Ross texted Counsell before the news broke, Craig called him back and said, “We had a good conversation. I always had great respect for him, and have even more respect after that conversation.” Counsell acknowledged this sort of thing is a difficult part of the business.
About players, Counsell said the most important thing is to have the courage to be yourself. There is a selflessness to winning, whether you can see the bigger picture. Also key: The bond that teammates create, which is one of the most powerful things sports has going.
Regarding “being yourself,” Counsell also noted that the first thing you learn about managing is the courage to be yourself — not strategy, etc. “As you get older and experience events,” he continued, “those start to guide you a little more, help you form gut decisions. that’s how you improve, don’t lose that fearlessness but all the “reps” make you better at the job. This is why I’m here, you have to challenge yourself and get to the next place.”
Counsell was asked whether the large contract would make a difference in how he manages, or would create pressure. His response, I think, says much about him as a human being as well as a manager. He said: “There’s pressure in this job, I accept it and welcome it. Regardless of the money. my job is to win baseball games no matter what. It’s that simple.”
Asked about the relationship he’d have with Hoyer, Counsell noted that Jed can be very creative and use multiple options to improve things. He said, “What’s fun about this is the workplace dynamic, how to communicate with each other, learn about each other, got an early read on it. that’s how we make progress, we push each other. I love that part of it, you learn so much in the early conversations. Find places where you can make each other better.”
It’s clear to me that nine years managing in the big leagues — even though, as was pointed out, Counsell had the same amount of coaching experience as Ross when he started — has taught him a lot about relationships and connecting, more so than about any specific strategies to be used. In modern baseball, as you know, analytics often take precedence in deciding which players are going to be used in specific situations. But Counsell also said, “I hope to provide some new thoughts and ideas about how to improve a process, new way to think about how to manage a roster during the season. Those are little things, stack little good decisions on top of each other, wake up one day you’re in a pretty good place.”
That’s the sort of manager the Cubs have needed, someone who can provide those sorts of new thoughts and ideas.
Lastly, Counsell was asked about the coaching staff and he said he was still working on that process and wanted to go slowly and deliberately and do more homework. Thus, I doubt we’ll hear about any changes in the Cubs coaching staff for some time.
I did want to make one note about Counsell being named the “56th manager” of the Cubs, as noted by Hoyer on his introduction. That does not include the seven men who were part of the College of Coaches, who were not officially “managers” even as they served in a similar role. So, really there have now been 63 different men to be the field leader of the Chicago Cubs.
Counsell will wear the familiar No. 30 that he wore as Brewers manager and also for six years as a player in Milwaukee. It was last worn by Edwin Rios this past season, and the only other non-player who’s worn it is Chili Davis, who wore No. 30 in his one year as Cubs batting coach in 2018.
I wish Craig Counsell all the best as he takes on the challenge of managing the Chicago Cubs — and he used the word “challenge” quite a bit Monday morning — for the next five years. Here’s hoping he helps hoist a trophy or two in those five years.