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A few midseason thoughts about David Ross as Cubs manager

How does the Cubs skipper stack up as we head to the season’s second half?

Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

A number of BCB readers have suggested, not just this year but in the past, that when I issue grades for the players at midseason, I should also rate the manager and coaching staff.

Truth be told, I just don’t know enough about many members of the coaching staff to assign a grade. How is Dustin Kelly doing as hitting coach? Well, you don’t hear much about him, which is probably a good thing. In general, hitting coaches get too much blame when teams are hitting poorly and not enough credit when they’re hitting well. After Sunday’s loss to the Cubs, the Yankees fired their hitting coach Dillon Lawson. There’s nothing that Lawson really did wrong that couldn’t have been fixed by having a healthy Aaron Judge for the last month.

So the coaches, in general, I can’t get too worked up about.

Regarding manager David Ross, yes, I have opinions, so here goes.

While Ross was playing for the Cubs, it was widely assumed that he’d be the next Cubs manager after Joe Maddon’s tenure. Of course, that playing career ended with a World Series championship in 2016 and at the time, many thought Maddon might be extended past his original five-year contract and that perhaps Ross would begin his post-playing career as a coach under Maddon.

That, of course, didn’t happen. The Cubs made the postseason just twice more under Maddon and his contract wasn’t renewed after 2019. The front office, then still led by Theo Epstein, interviewed several candidates but it seemed clear that was just window dressing and that Ross was their guy. Ross had an association with Theo, and with Jed Hoyer, going back to Ross’ first stint as a player in Boston in 2008. That was just a brief stay — he was signed in late August 2008 after being released by the Reds — but Theo’s front office was impressed by Ross’ knowledge of players and pitchers around the league. It was why Boston management brought Ross back in 2013, and he helped them win a World Series that year.

Ross was hired as a special assistant in Theo’s front office with the Cubs after retirement, and he did do some scouting work for them when he wasn’t working for ESPN or appearing on “Dancing With The Stars.” While it wasn’t in-game coaching work, the FO felt it was enough to name Ross manager after the 2019 season.

And then the pandemic turned the 2020 season upside down. Ross’ Cubs won a division title in the abbreviated season and many credit Ross with helping the Cubs have no positive COVID cases that year.

The team ran out to a good start in 2021, then lost 11 in a row, which resulted in Jed Hoyer’s Big Selloff. We don’t have to rehash that here. After losing 14 of 18 after the selloff, Ross managed a ragtag bunch of Cubs to a 17-19 mark to finish the season. The 2021 season was still affected by the pandemic, as attendance was limited for the first two months and there were still some protocols for COVID mandated by the league.

Then the 2022 season began... after it almost didn’t due to the owners’ lockout. And the Cubs got off to a decent start, winning six of their first 10... but then finishing the first half with a 35-57 record that included losing streaks of seven and nine.

After another selloff — this time of several good relievers — the Cubs finished the year 39-31 and Ross was being praised for his leadership.

Now re-read all that’s above. This is Ross’ fourth year as Cubs manager, but 2023 is the first of those seasons that’s anywhere near pre-pandemic “normal.” The team made some signings that indicated they at least would try to compete in the NL Central.

And, you know what? They have done that. It’s easy to quibble with Ross’ lineup selections or bullpen matchups, but fans do that with just about any manager. As Mike Bojanowski likes to remind me, we are not in the dugout and we are not in the clubhouse and we don’t know what’s going on with individual players, either during games or in preparation for games. We have to assume that the coaches and managers have more information than we do and are using it to prepare the team for each day’s game.

I do know this about David Ross. His players play hard for him each and every day. You can see that on the field. They have no “quit” in them, for lack of a better term, and you could probably see that in every game of the most recent road trip. The Cubs could easily have gone 6-1 on that trip with a break here or there, they had several stirring comebacks and it feels as if they are thisclose to a major breakthrough and winning streak.

You might say that players play hard for every manager, but you need look back no further than the last couple of years to see a White Sox team that really didn’t for Tony La Russa, a manager forced on those players by the whims of the team owner. The Sox won their division in 2021 mainly on autopilot, and then when expected to repeat last year they fell flat on their face, the team seemingly leaderless. Strong management and continuity matters.

So I am going to give David Ross a B grade for his management skills this year. If not for some key injuries (Cody Bellinger, in particular), the Cubs might be closer to first place in the N.L. Central. They still might have a run toward the top in them; we’ll find out more about that starting Friday.

In any case, David Ross is likely to stick around as manager for a while. He was originally signed to a three-year deal, and that was extended for two more years with a team option for 2025, in March 2022.

It is remarkable to me that since Leo Durocher was fired in July 1972 after 6½ years as Cubs manager — and that’s more than half a century ago — no one has managed the Chicago Cubs for more than five seasons. That mark is co-held by Maddon and Jim Riggleman, who managed the team from 1995-99. In the Modern Era (since 1900), the only other men who have managed the Cubs for more than five seasons are Frank Chance (seven and a half years, 1905-12) and Charlie Grimm (nine full years and parts of five others, 1932-38, 1944-49 and 1960).

Perhaps David Ross will be the guy who breaks that streak. He’s just 46 and I think he’s done a good job. I’d like to see him provide some stability in the manager’s chair. His managerial record is 221-252, and that’s already 16th on the Cubs list for managerial wins. By the end of this year he could move up a couple more spots on that list, if the Cubs have a good second half.

What say you?


Give David Ross a grade for his managing so far in 2023.

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