The Return of Ross

“…but a very complex one. A swamp with many levels of political overtones and resonances that can’t be fathomed at the present time; but need the distance of the future to give it a proper perspective, so you can truly have a point of view – and realize the viscosity of that quagmire. And the only way to understand this is to realize that it’s incomprehensible.”

– Robin Williams as Jack Dundee in The Best of Times

Such could be likened to the Cubs’ hiring of David Ross as their new manager.

Some fans and critics think its a great hire. Others think its bad. The truth is, neither is the case – at this exact moment. We won’t know if it’s a good or bad hire for a few years, at least. So, following the wisdom of Mr. Dundee, we will see how it looks down the road a bit.

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Ten days ago, I penned a short piece explaining how Ross might be Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer’s guy, and lead the northsiders in the 2020 season. That content wasn’t intended to advocate, but rather to shed some light on why Ross could be selected over other worthy candidates, Joe Girardi among them.

The why

Cutting to the chase here, there had been enough circumstantial evidence and expert analyses done to believe that the Cubs front office wanted a manager who is young, will do the job for not a lot of money, and won’t push back on baseball decisions.

Ross checks all those boxes.

All things being equal, (obviously not the resumes of the candidates, where Ross literally does not compare), if it came down to three big things, those are they. Added to which it’s an internal hire since Ross never actually left the payroll. He assumed a very Craig Counsell-ish special assistant to the GM role in 2017, which may very well have set this whole thing in motion.

In his short but distinctive time with the Cubs, he was in many ways a coach on the field. No doubt he is a smart baseball guy, and his impact within the organization and with the fans likely set off some light bulbs in the front office to hire him as a coach one day – soon. How soon is now?, The Smiths once asked. Well, it’s today.

The criticism

Fans and writers have offered up two highly common – and valid – points of criticism about Ross regarding his managerial hiring.

  1. He has no experience. That is true. However, there is plenty of modern precedent for first time managers finding success. Of recent ilk, Counsell, Aaron Boone, Alex Cora and Bob Brenly come to mind. There are many other examples going back through the history of baseball as well. With so many baseball decisions being made in this era by the front office and on-field coaches, the role of the manager has been reduced somewhat. However, navigating through a 162-game regular season is different than the quick and crucial strategizing that is required in a critical postseason series. Ross and the Cubs aren’t there yet but that will no doubt be a fascinating test.
  2. He is too friendly with a lot of the players. This is a valid concern, too. But plenty of managers have coached recent teammates. It’s not like that’s a new situation. Furthermore, if you haven’t read Ross’ book, or gleaned enough insight from these friends of his – namely Jon Lester, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward – he has angrily lit these guys up more than once. The now famous moniker of ‘Grampa Rossy’ was created largely in part to him being somewhat of a curmudgeonly grumpy guy who would get on players’ cases. If he can temporarily turn the friendship off to light a fire by choice as a teammate, should we doubt that he will be able to do so by right as a manager? Time will tell on this also.

We’ll see how it plays out. Whether you feel its a good, bad, or lazy hire right now, no doubt it’s a popular one. If it actually turns out to be good or bad, remains to be seen. Nonetheless, it’s a new and exciting era for the Cubs beginning in 2020.

 

Photo Credit: http://wavethew.com/2016/05/may-2-cubs-take-game-1-of-series-with-pirates-7-2/

 

 

 

Drawn to the Dugout: The Next Cubs Manager

From the legendary Cap Anson to Joe Maddon 140 years later, the Cubs have had more than their share of unique personalities at the top step of the dugout.

Hall of Fame gentlemen like Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, Frank Chance (yes, that Tinker to Evers to Chance group), Rogers Hornsby, Joe McCarthy, Gabby Hartnett, and Leo Durocher all had their tenures as north side skipper.

Of course, only in Chicago could a manager lead his club to the first World Series title since Chance was at the helm, end the honeymoon before it even began, become a polarized figure and turn into non-surprising news when his contract wasn’t renewed nary three years later, right?

But thanks, Joe. Seriously and sincerely.

Thus begins the search for who will lead the Cubs starting with the 2020 season.

While the list is pretty short at this stage, the purported front runner, David Ross, is somewhat polarized himself. But should he be?

If strictly comparing resumes to other candidates like Joe Girardi, Mark Loretta and Joe Espada is the main factor, then Ross literally does not compare – he simply hasn’t coached before. Despite having a reputation for most of his playing career as a coach-on-the-field for his knowledge and quick thinking, he has never held an official seat. Much less one that is on par with someone like Girardi, who has won a World Series as a manager.

But does that really matter?

Aaron Boone had no managerial experience when he took over the New York Yankees in 2018. They won 100 games and reached the ALDS. This year they won 103 and are currently in the ALCS.

Alex Cora was a first time manager when he was handed the reigns of the Boston Red Sox in 2018. They won the World Series.

Bob Brenly led the Arizona Diamondbacks to a World Series title in 2001 in his first season as manager.

The point is, a first-time manager finding success is far from unprecedented or unrealistic.

This is not to advocate Ross for the job. This is saying why he could, not should, be the choice. I always liked him as a player and I believe he will make a fine skipper some day, but I certainly have no crystal ball that is locking him in to the Cubs dugout for next season.

All the candidates are sound.

But has this been boiled down to Girardi vs. Ross?

Experience and success-wise, Girardi has no competition here.

There are some other intangibles that may put Ross ahead of the pack, however. One inherent issue with experienced coaches, especially former managers, is the pushback on baseball-related issues they can give to the front office. In today’s sabermetric, analytics-driven game, the old guard baseball guys tend to have some strategic friction with their bosses. Reports of this happening with Maddon and Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer were surfacing as far back as the Cubs’ magical 2016 championship season. It is unlikely the Cubs brass will want to invite similar issues back with their new manager.

Furthermore, the actual role of field manager has been reduced somewhat in this modern era. With a lot (some say too much) of data available, many game decisions are made by the front office and crucial personnel – bench and pitching coaches to be exact – to help the manager along.

Youth, money and control are other considerations. Strong hearsay and between-the-lines rumblings indicate that Epstein/Hoyer may want a younger, more passive type of manager who won’t push back with them (too much) on baseball-related decisions, and someone they won’t have to pay a large salary to. Someone like Ross would check all those boxes, where Girardi, although still fairly young, would not. With a World Series title, nearly 1,000 wins and experience managing in a major market under his belt, it is highly unlikely that Girardi would be the pseudo “Yes Man” that the Cubs brass seems to be searching for. They’d also have to pay him a lot more money than any other candidate.

My initial reaction a couple weeks ago was that Loretta, the current Cubs bench coach would be the practical – albeit boring – selection. Added to which I figured Ross’ interest would be a token interview just to appease Cubs fans, and that maybe he would be brought on as Loretta’s bench coach at most. It would seem now, however, that Ross is the likely target, and that Girardi, ironically, has become the token interviewee. ‘Grandpa Rossy’ also has plenty of marketability to consider. The fans adore him, and he has an endearing personality and sense of self-deprecating humor (there was that whole Dancing With the Stars thing, after all) that automatically lends itself to the role. How that may translate into success on the field would be anyone’s guess.

The other blowback from Cubs fans about Ross is whether or not he is still too close to a number of current players. It is well known that his former teammates Jon Lester, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant among others are some of his best friends. Would he be able to put that aside and act managerially? Would he be able to relate to them no longer as a colleague but as their in-game boss? The answer to that, I believe, is yes. Something that is often forgotten by Cubs fans is the ‘Grandpa Rossy’ nickname that Bryant and Rizzo bestowed upon him was more than just a friendly jab at an old backup catcher in his final season of his playing career. It was a sarcastic nod at the fact Ross could be a prick – in a good way – for his ability to light a fire under the players and get their attention. The youngins on the club thought he was being a curmudgeonly old man. They realized after ’16 that he actually always had a point.

If he can continue to do that, and keep his sharp baseball mind in-tune, then maybe Ross would be the right guy after all.

Or maybe it’ll be someone else, in which case you can disregard everything you just read.

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Photo credits: https://twitter.com/NBCSCubs/status/1179075357405859840

https://www.en24.news/2019/10/mlb-2019-joe-girardi-and-david-ross-candidates-to-take-command-of-the-chicago-cubs.html