By now, you have heard the news that David Ross has been let go as Cubs manager and replaced by Craig Counsell, the former manager of the Brewers. Counsell received a five-year deal for a reported $40 million, so it’ll be a while before we have another Cubs manager, presumably.
There will be plenty of time to discuss Counsell, his managerial tendencies and how he might do things differently than Ross.
What I want to do here is thank David Ross for his contributions to the Chicago Cubs, and they were considerable.
Consider this: Ross managed the Cubs for four seasons. Only one of them — this past one — was what we might consider a “normal” baseball season, for the sport as a whole and for the Cubs.
In 2020, baseball as well as the rest of the world were going through the COVID-19 pandemic. The season was shortened to 60 games. Ross guided the Cubs to a division title that year. Yes, who knows what would have happened in a full season, but the Cubs played what was scheduled and had a postseason berth, though they were bounced quickly out of it by the Marlins.
Ross was proud of the fact that the Cubs were the only team to go through the 2020 season without a COVID case. He did an outstanding job, in my view, of keeping that team on an even keel through tough conditions.
The beginning of the 2021 season was also affected by the pandemic, with Spring Training shortened. Then, the team didn’t play up to expectations and Jed Hoyer’s front office had a massive selloff, reducing the Cubs’ active roster to one resembling a waiver list.
Nevertheless, Ross continued to have his players play hard for him every single day, even when it was clear their talent level wasn’t up to what had been traded away. After losing 20 of their first 27 after the selloff, those sub Cubs went 14-16, which, given the talent level, wasn’t bad.
The 2022 season again wasn’t “normal,” as the owners’ lockout delayed Spring Training and caused quite a number of schedule shifts for the regular season. The Cubs again didn’t play well early and again Hoyer’s front office sold off. But the Cubs went 39-31 after the All-Star break and I believe a lot of that is Ross believing in his players and creating a clubhouse atmosphere of playing hard every single day.
In 2023, with key acquisitions such as Dansby Swanson, Cody Bellinger and Jameson Taillon, expectations for the Cubs were higher. The team struggled at first, then played their way into contention just around the time yet another selloff might have happened. They went from 10 games under .500 at 28-30 to 12 games over at 76-64 September 6 before collapsing, largely because the bullpen just wasn’t good enough. Was part of this Ross’ fault? Perhaps, but it’s also true that Hoyer’s bullpen acquisitions just weren’t good enough, either. From the All-Star break in 2022 through September 6, 2023 the Cubs went 115-95, a .548 winning percentage that would be good for 89 wins over a full season, likely good enough for a playoff spot. It just wasn’t quite enough in 2023.
Did David Ross make mistakes with his lineup selections and bullpen choices? Yes. Will Cubs fans complain about Craig Counsell’s lineup selections and bullpen choices? Also yes; that’s just part of what being a major league manager is. Ross’ best quality as a manager was that he had his players playing hard for him every single day, even when they were losing game after game. That’s a great thing for a manager to be. In the end, it wasn’t enough for the front office to continue with him in the managerial chair, and given what I know about Counsell, Cubs players will likely play hard for him as well.
Ross’ tenure as a manager was fraught with tough circumstances and he handled them all pretty well. More wins would have been nice, though even a postseason spot in 2023 might not have saved his job. Hiring Counsell this quickly makes me think Hoyer & Co. had their eyes on him once the season was over and he hadn’t re-upped with the Brewers.
There’s one more thing about David Ross we should remember: His two years as a Cubs player. They began with him almost taking on an assistant manager type role, getting into some of his teammates’ faces when he didn’t think they were playing hard. He had multiple postseasons and a World Series ring to back this up, and his friendship with Jon Lester helped him in this clubhouse leadership role.
Then there was 2016 and his “Grandpa Rossy” persona, bestowed on him by Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant during Spring Training. He had a pretty good year, batting .229/.338/.446 with 10 home runs in 67 games and posting 1.6 bWAR as a backup to Miguel Montero and Willson Contreras. Those 10 homers included these two memorable blasts. First, his final regular-season homer at Wrigley Field [VIDEO].
Then, there was his Game 7 home run, and the Cubs needed every single run in that game [VIDEO].
Don’t tell me you didn’t get emotional watching those, of course you did.
David Ross is a good man and I think he did a pretty good job managing the Cubs, though he couldn’t get them to the postseason and the front office thinks they’ve found someone better. I certainly hope they have.
But I salute David Ross for his time as a Chicago Cub and thank him for the memories. When they have future reunions of the 2016 World Series champions he’ll always be welcome as a beloved figure.