Crew extends Counsell on 3-year contract

Skipper thrilled to continue leading Brewers, take team's recent success 'to another level'

January 9th, 2020

MILWAUKEE -- After becoming the first manager in franchise history to lead the Brewers to the postseason in multiple years, Craig Counsell won’t have to worry about entering the 2020 season as a lame duck.

The Brewers on Wednesday signed Counsell, 49, to a three-year contract extension through 2023. It was a widely-anticipated deal, since Counsell was heading into the final year of his contract.

Already the longest-tenured manager in the National League, Counsell’s extension could make him the longest-tenured manager in Brewers history. Phil Garner managed the team for eight seasons from 1992-99; if Counsell serves into 2023, he will have been at the helm for parts of nine seasons.

“Look, you know this job doesn’t have much security. That’s what it tells you, right?” Counsell said. “I think we’ve taken steps to put the franchise in a good place, and that’s going to be the job moving forward -- to keep it in a good place and to keep us contending for playoff appearances and World Series titles. That’s our mission going forward, and hopefully with some stability, that helps us do that.”

The Brewers are 405-381 in the regular season since Counsell took over as manager in May 2015. He has finished among the top four in NL Manager of the Year balloting in each of the past three years, including runner-up finishes in '18 and '19 after Milwaukee made the postseason thanks to strong finishing kicks. In each of the past two regular seasons, the Brewers went 20-7 from Sept. 1 to the end, doing so in '19 despite losing NL Most Valuable Player Award candidate Christian Yelich to a knee injury with 18 games to go.

They were the second set of back-to-back playoff berths in franchise history, though the first two -- 1981 and ’82 -- came under two managers (Buck Rodgers and Harvey Kuenn). That makes Counsell the only man to manage the Brewers in multiple postseasons.

“I think [continuity] is one of the reasons we've been successful,” Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns said.

Stearns said he had regarded Counsell’s extension as “an inevitability.” The two had been discussing Counsell’s contract for some time, but only recently he felt compelled to ramp up the negotiations that led to Wednesday’s announcement. Counsell was already on the job for four months when the Brewers made Stearns MLB’s youngest GM in September 2015, and the two meshed almost immediately -- thanks in part, Counsell said Wednesday, to a healthy respect for the fact that they each have different jobs to do.

Counsell’s original contract was for three years, from 2015-17. He got a three-year extension from Stearns in November 2016 before landing another on Wednesday.

“I'd say one of the reasons Craig and I have been able to forge a relationship that has worked is because neither of us 'sell,’” Stearns said. “We discuss and we talk, but no one is trying to sell anything. We're able to have conversations where we discuss what's in the best interest of our organization and what's in the best interest of the team. That's where the focus is.”

Counsell was born in South Bend, Ind., but he was raised in greater Milwaukee, where his father, John, worked in the Brewers’ front office from 1979-87. Before his own baseball career took off, Craig Counsell was a regular at County Stadium, and he fell in love with the great teams of Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Jim Gantner and Cecil Cooper in the late 1970s and early '80s. Those teams never won the World Series, but Counsell did -- twice. He scored the winning run for the Marlins in the bottom of the 11th inning of Game 7 of the '97 Fall Classic against the Indians, then took a hit-by-pitch one batter before Luis Gonzalez delivered a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth inning for the D-backs against the Yankees in Game 7 in 2001.

Counsell subsequently played two stints with the Brewers in 2004 and from '07-11, helping to end Milwaukee’s 26-year postseason drought in '08, and serving as a veteran bench player for an '11 team that won the NL Central and made it past the D-backs in the NL Division Series and into the NL Championship Series. After retiring in ’11, Counsell took a job in the front office under Brewers GM Doug Melvin and learned about the parts of the sport he couldn’t see from the field.

In May 2015, with the Brewers off to a slow start on the heels of a brutal finish to the previous season, Counsell returned to the dugout as manager, and he has been there ever since.

The coming season, however, offers a renewed challenge, and a test of the concept of “connectedness” that Counsell has pitched since the Brewers emerged from the swift rebuild that coincided with the beginning of his tenure. Unlike in the past two years, the Crew has undergone more dramatic roster turnover this winter, including the departures of free agents like Yasmani Grandal, Mike Moustakas and others. And Stearns said Wednesday that he would be surprised if there weren't more additions before the start of next season.

“It’s just something that we have to look forward to and not fight against, I think,” Counsell said. “We have new players this year, but I also think we have very important players that are the same. That’s Ryan [Braun], Christian [Yelich], Lorenzo [Cain], Josh Hader, Corey Knebel, Brandon Woodruff, who have been here throughout this. Still, to me, it’s a great core. I think it’s all of our jobs -- their jobs included, the names I mentioned -- to help with this transition.”

A bit of stability helps as well.

“I look at it more like I get to continue to work for a franchise that means a lot to me,” Counsell said. “We get to continue doing what we’ve been doing, and try to take it to another level. It’s really that the work gets to continue -- that’s what I’m excited about.”