Counsell is Brewers' choice for manager
Former Milwaukee player has been in team's front office since 2012
MILWAUKEE -- It was true that as he sat on the dais at Miller Park and as the new leader of his hometown Brewers, Craig Counsell had never managed a single inning. But it was untrue to say he had no experience.
Both Counsell and general manager Doug Melvin made that argument forcefully as the team entered a new era on Monday with Counsell as its manager. It began with the season's most uplifting triumph, a come-from-behind, 4-3 win over Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers.
"He's played 1,600 games as a player. I told him he was on the bench for about 800 games that he didn't play, and during those games, I know that he was managing in his mind," Melvin said. "That experience -- the winning experience, the World Series rings, what he's done in the front office working with me over the last three years -- is going to be a very big help to him on the field."
Afer dismissing manager Ron Roenicke the night before following a 7-18 start, the Brewers gave Counsell a three-year contract that covers the rest of this season and each of the next two. It continued a trend in Major League Baseball toward hiring well-respected former players who have never coached. Counsell joined the likes of Brad Ausmus of the Tigers, Mike Matheny of the Cardinals, Robin Ventura of the White Sox and Walt Weiss of the Rockies.
Unlike those others, Counsell already was an employee of the team. He played his final five seasons with Milwaukee from 2007-11 (he also was a Brewer in 2004), then transitioned into a job as a special assistant to Melvin. It was not a ceremonial role; Counsell has been intricately involved in every aspect of the organization during the past three years, experience that Melvin believes will serve Counsell well as the Brewers try to dig out of the poorest start in franchise history.
When he addressed the players on Monday afternoon, Counsell was talking to eight former teammates: Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez, Jonathan Lucroy, Francisco Rodriguez, Martin Maldonado, Logan Schafer, Mike Fiers and Jeremy Jeffress.
"They know where I sit on lots of things, so to me, it's a positive," Counsell said. "To some degree, I've been managing them for a while, both as a player and now in this [front office] role. Those guys, for me, are easier, quite honestly."
Asked whether he had changes in mind, Counsell said, "I don't know about specific changes. My view of stuff like the lineup and bullpen usage is we make way too big a deal out of it. We put players in a position to succeed, and a lineup change here is not some signal that I don't like the player or he's not doing it. We're just putting the best foot forward every day to win a baseball game.
"I think the changes are mostly things that you guys won't see, quite honestly. I just have a way that I want things to be done."
In naming his biggest influences, Counsell cited his former Marlins manager Jim Leyland, who was "hard on you, but fair," and his former D-backs manager Bob Melvin, who allowed Counsell into the "back room" in 2005-06 so Counsell could observe what it took to manage a team. Melvin's personality is much different than Leyland's.
"I think there's a balance there," Counsell said. "I've said this for years, I said this as a player: We all want to be led. To some extent, we all want to be told what to do. In a team atmosphere, that's what happens. We have to sacrifice a little bit of ourselves, give a little bit of ourselves, to take the team in the right direction."
Counsell was raised just north of Milwaukee and his father worked in the Brewers' front office as head of the team's speakers' bureau and later as head of the community-relations department. In recent years, Counsell has turned down opportunities to pursue coaching positions with other teams so he could remain in the Milwaukee area with his wife, Michelle, and their four young children.
The Counsell kids were in attendance at Monday's introductory news conference, and they hugged dad after he was done.
"I've watched Brewer games for 35 years. I'm a Milwaukee Brewer. I've always felt that way," Counsell said. "Baseball in this city is important to me. It's part of me. I feel a responsibility for it."
Is it surreal to be managing the team he once cheered?
"It's not surreal," Counsell said. "It's a place where I feel like I've prepared myself to be. Surreal was playing. This is probably more where I thought I would end up, in a position of leadership like this.
"It's an honor and it's humbling, but I feel like this is what I was meant to do. I think I'll be better at this than I was at playing."