Ross returns from flu for debut as Cubs manager

February 26th, 2020

MESA, Ariz. -- Anthony Rizzo strolled through the Cubs' clubhouse on Monday morning wearing a surgical mask. It was a bit of humor aimed in the direction of manager David Ross, whose phone was buzzing with jokes and GIFs over the past few days.

Ross' highly anticipated managerial debut for the Cubs was stalled by an overwhelming bout with the flu. The 55th manager in franchise history did not manage the first three Spring Training games of his tenure, and some of his players -- a few being former teammates of his -- responded in expected fashion.

"Been taking a little ribbing from the boys," Ross said with a laugh on Tuesday, before the Cubs' 12-6 loss to the Rockies. "They've been texting on me, checking on me, sending me Lou Brown in the hospital bed GIFs. It's been pretty fun."

Brown was the fictional manager of Cleveland in the “Major League” movies. In the scene referenced from the second film, the manager was jumping up and down on his hospital bed -- wearing a gown and Tribe cap -- while watching one of his team's games. As it happened Ross did wind up in a hospital in Scottsdale on Sunday for four or five hours to receive fluids.

Ross' absence from Cubs' camp at least put a couple of things on display. First, the environment and culture he is in the process of creating allowed for players to poke some fun at their first-year manager without crossing any lines. It also showed that Ross' revamped coaching staff is already capable of maintaining the no-nonsense, business-like workouts.

Bench coach Andy Green managed in Ross' place and continued to team with pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, hitting coach Anthony Iapoce and the rest of the staff to organize the daily drills and map out the in-game plans for players.

"Man, I'm so thankful for that group I have in there," Ross said. "Being able to text message those guys. They're giving me updates -- how guys look, how guys feel. I'm super appreciative of the work they put in. I mean, things definitely ran seamlessly."

The flu bug struck Ross on Friday and carried over into Saturday, when rain pushed the Cubs' Cactus League opener against the A's back to a night game. Saturday also marked the launch date for the team's new regional sports network, Marquee. Ross arrived at the complex knowing the importance of the day, but he was sent home by the medical staff.

Ross was able to watch the game from home, but it ate at him that he could not be in the dugout.

"It stinks, because you give all these talks to the guys," Ross said. "I'm in there talking about I want everybody in there the first game and in the dugout. And I'm sitting at home watching like 62 dudes in the dugout and guys are hitting home runs and I'm like, 'How am I not there?' I'm holding everybody accountable here and I'm the only one not there.

"So, that was tough, man. I'm going to be honest with you. Of all the times to miss, it felt terrible."

Ross received a text message from one of his close friends.

It read: "You quit already?"

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer also sent a playful jab Ross' way.

"Yeah, 'You're no Lou Gehrig,'" Ross said with a laugh. "Thanks, Jed."

Ross then pointed out that Hoyer was now actually feeling under the weather on Tuesday.

"What goes around comes around," Ross said. "That's karma. I wish I could've been there -- trust me."

Ross tried to make it to the complex on Sunday, but he admittedly pushed a little too hard, and that is when he wound up in the hospital. On Monday morning, Ross felt well enough to head to the practice fields to observe a handful of pitchers throwing live batting practice, but he still left the managing to Green for the game against the Mariners in Peoria.

Ross said most players sent nice texts to check on him, while Rizzo was "leading the charge" in giving the manager a hard time. While he was away, Ross was able to watch most of the game action that he missed. He has liked what he's seen out of the chute.

"Guys are coming out swinging the bats well," Ross said. "The energy in the dugout seems to be good. Good feedback from the coaches on how the guys are going about their work and the energy and the support."

Finally, Ross recovered enough by Tuesday to return to the interview room to chat with reporters and was ready to manage the afternoon's game against the Rockies. It just so happens that Cubs veteran Jon Lester -- whom Ross caught so often during their days as teammates -- is the pitcher on the mound.

"As a player, I only had to show up for Jon Lester's starts," Ross quipped. "So I figured today was a good day to get back. Yeah, it's good. It's good. It kind of worked out that way. I'm excited to get back."