New skipper Ross 'perfect' choice to lead Cubs

October 28th, 2019

CHICAGO -- Throughout David Ross' playing career, he had teammates who told him he would make a good manager. When that sentiment continued, even after he embraced the sharp edge that can come with being a vocal veteran leader, Ross allowed himself to ponder that path.

Earlier this month, as the Cubs pushed Ross in two formal interviews for their managerial vacancy, the idea of managing became anchored in reality. The more he talked, letting his values and vision flow in meetings with Chicago's front office leaders, the more Ross knew unequivocally that he wanted to take the reins on the North Side.

"I was passionate. I sat up in my chair. I was getting emotional," Ross said. "I could feel the fire that I had inside me, and then going home and having a minute to process that. When you're asked what you believe over and over again, it becomes real. And I didn't shy away from that."

On the second floor inside the team's offices next to Wrigley Field on Monday, Ross smiled for the cameras and raised his home white Cubs jersey, complete with the No. 3 that he wore during the 2015-16 seasons. With his parents in the front row, Ross was officially introduced as the 55th manager in franchise history.

The Cubs announced the hiring on Thursday, ending a month-long process to name the successor to Joe Maddon, who led the 2016 Cubs to World Series glory with Ross on the roster. Maddon's contract was not extended by Chicago, but he was swiftly named the new manager of the Angels. Out in Los Angeles, Maddon sung Ross' praises, too.

"He's going to be perfect in that situation," Maddon told reporters. "Everything you've read about him -- that's who he is. He's a great leader. He's straight-forward. He's blunt, but in a good way."

And that last comment felt like the unofficial theme of Monday's press gathering.

Understandably, much has been made of Ross' connection to the 2016 Cubs and the friendships he has maintained with some of his former teammates. Back then, the "Grandpa Rossy" persona was born and Cubs fans embraced Ross as a cult hero. Ross homered in Game 7 of the '16 World Series -- the final game of his career -- and was famously carried off the field on the shoulders of his teammates.

Given that history, it is fair to question if a friend can also be a boss, or if a fan favorite can handle the public scrutiny of the high-pressure role. Ross, who received a three-year contract, tackled that issue head-on in his first meeting with the media as manager.

"I think there's a little bit of a misconception of maybe the fun-loving Grandpa Rossy," Ross said. "I don't think that's me in the dugout as much. As much as I would love to say that I'm that guy, I just, to the core, I'm a guy that has a lot of expectations when I come into work. I'm very professional. I expect professionalism.

"And those traits I've talked about -- the effort, the accountability -- I don't shy away from having those tough conversations, good or bad. I know these guys. I hope to build their trust, their respect. They will have mine. I hope to gain theirs. But, the Grandpa Rossy thing is a little bit overblown."

Theo Epstein, the Cubs president of baseball operations, said he did not specifically consult players about hiring Ross during the interview process. Epstein said he has had numerous conversations in the past with players about Ross -- a special assistant in the baseball operations department for the past three years -- and that was enough to feel the dynamic would not be a problem.

"I think some of them were rooting for somebody else," Epstein joked. "It's not high on the list of concerns."

Epstein said he has experienced Ross' edge first-hand, too.

During Ross' playing days, Epstein did not like how the backup catcher was handling a young pitcher who was fresh up from the Minor Leagues. The executive found Ross before a game, sat him down in the dugout and went over the analytics and scouting report for the pitcher in question.

"I kind of expected him, because he was the backup catcher," Epstein said, "to say, 'Oh OK, I didn't know this guy, so I appreciate that.' And instead, it was some serious pushback right in my face."

Epstein expects Ross to challenge him the same way in his new role.

"If you're a front office and you want a puppet," Epstein said, "you don't hire David Ross."

A heightened sense of accountability will be a goal for the Cubs in 2020 under Ross.

Epstein has noted this offseason and last that the clubhouse lacked the kind of strong veteran voice that Ross brought in '15-16. Part of Ross' challenge for the season ahead will not only be to provide some of that leadership himself, but to empower some of Chicago's veterans to step up more in that regard.

"I think these guys responded to me when I was here as a player. I don’t think that will change as a manager," Ross said. "It's just having those conversations with them, continually adjusting. ... There are a lot of leaders in that clubhouse. I’ve seen it. I know these guys and I think communicating with them will be a big factor."

Over the course of his 15-year playing career, Ross learned from managers like Bobby Cox, Terry Francona, Bruce Bochy, Dusty Baker and Maddon about how to give players freedom, inspire leadership, foster a culture of accountability and know when to have tough conversations or chats to pick a player up.

Ross believes -- even with no managerial experience -- he is prepared to handle all that comes with his new pile of responsibilities.

"I know what winning looks like," Ross said. "I've always been a guy who asks questions to my teammates and managers, trying to soak in those answers, those experiences, preparing for this opportunity that I'm about to take on. There are many ways to get experience. I don't think everybody takes the same road, but I know I'm ready for this."