CHICAGO (AP) — David Ross slipped on his old No. 3 jersey, as if it was 2016 all over again, though he and the Cubs insisted this is not about the past.
It’s a step toward a future they hope includes a return to the postseason and more World Series championships.
The Cubs introduced Ross as their 55th manager on Monday to replace Joe Maddon with their sights set on getting back to the playoffs after missing out for the first time in five years.
“I’ve been a part of a lot of winning teams,” said Ross, a revered leader on the 2016 championship team who also played on a World Series winner in Boston. “I know what winning looks like. There’s things that I expect out of players, out of myself, that entail winning.”
The Cubs gave Ross a three-year deal last week with a club option through the 2023 season. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer are under contract through 2021, and stars Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant are under club control through then.
“I think he signed a fairly standard length for a first-year manager,” Epstein said. “I never for one second think about my contract or the duration of it. We’re always trying to act in the best interest of the organization for the long haul and trying hard to make sure that that big picture and the long view manifest in winning seasons in the current year. I think he’s somebody that the entire organization felt good about. It wasn’t one person picking him; he was the consensus choice throughout the organization. Hopefully, he’s here for a really long time.”
The most immediate issue for Ross will be deciding which coaches to keep and which outsiders to hire.
Ross said he has texted the Cubs’ coaches, but he has not begun to assemble a staff.
Epstein said Ross plans to keep “a number of coaches” and might bring in some from the outside. He said adding a former manager or veteran bench coach to the staff “is important” given Ross’ lack of experience.
The 42-year-old Ross never has managed or coached. He played two of his final 15 seasons with the Cubs and was a respected leader on the 2016 team that ended the infamous World Series championship drought dating to 1908.
Affectionately nicknamed “Grandpa Rossy” by Bryant and Rizzo, he became at age 39 the oldest player to homer in a Game 7 of the World Series when he connected against Andrew Miller in the sixth inning in Cleveland. The Cubs wound up winning in the 10th, and Ross got carried off the field and into retirement by teammates.
He spent the past three years in Chicago’s front office and as an ESPN analyst. Working with Epstein and Hoyer, he said he gained deeper appreciation for the work behind the scenes — the communication between top executives and the manager, the coaching, scouting and development in the minors.
As for the type of manager Ross will be?
“I’m going to be a manager that wants to watch the game and see how it plays out,” he said. “I don’t think that I’ll be this guy that bunts all the time or doesn’t bunt. … I’m going to watch the game, let it come to me, feel my way through it.”
Just don’t expect him to let management pull his strings.
“If you’re a front office and you want a puppet, you don’t hire David Ross,” Epstein said.
Ross takes over for one of the most successful managers in franchise history. Maddon led the Cubs to the playoffs in four of his five seasons, with three appearances in the NL Championship Series to go with that World Series win.
The Cubs conducted two interviews each with Ross and Houston bench coach Joe Espada. Ex-Yankees manager and former Cubs catcher Joe Girardi, former Phillies manager Gabe Kapler, bench coach Mark Loretta and third-base coach Will Venable were also known to have interviewed.
But the Cubs ultimately decided to go with the man who was widely viewed as the heir apparent to Maddon.
“I think it’s a collaborative effort between us all,” Ross said. “But I will be making my own decisions and continue (getting) feedback from the group.”
Ross was known as a player who would tell teammates what they needed to hear — not necessarily what they wanted to hear. He was able to do it in a way that made them gravitate toward him, rather than alienate them.
Ross wasn’t afraid to tell the front office what he thought, either.
“I remember one time I didn’t love how he was calling pitches for a certain young pitcher we had just called up,” Epstein said. “I remember trying to find him. We sat down for about five minutes in the dugout before a game and I kind of shared with him: ‘Well, here’s what we have on this pitcher and here’s what worked for him in the minors. Here’s our scouting report. Here’s what the analytics say.'”
Epstein expected Ross, the backup catcher, to go along with it. Instead, he got “serious pushback right in my face” with his player telling him “here’s in reality what he can and can’t do.”
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