At 10 AM on Monday, November 13th 2023, Craig Counsell was introduced as the 56th manager in Cubs history, a week after the shocking news of his hiring changed expectations, opinions, and analysis of the 2023 Offseason. Counsell came off as cerebral and analytical in his responses in the 40-minute press conference. These are likely the traits that Jed Hoyer was looking for in his conversations with Counsell on Nov. 1, and the things that first attracted him to Counsell from afar.
Counsell indicated that he didn’t pick up the call at first, having to call Jed Hoyer back to set up a time to talk. The speedy timeline unfolded from there, as a phone call followed by a same-day meeting prior to leaving for New York.
In the course of the presser, a few phrases and quotes leapt out to me as Counsell answered the questions presented. Here are the particular ones that caught my attention:
“Decisions you make are rewarded over the Marathon”
If you have followed Counsell’s career to this point, it would not be a surprise hearing such a comment. Shortly after retiring from his playing career in 2012, Counsell was hired as a special assistant to the GM in the Brewers' front office. Counsell commented on respecting the interaction between the analytics-minded front office denizens and players, and a manager needing to bridge the connection. I expect those who were critical of David Ross’s “marathon” management will find a bit more maximization of the roster.
"Player development does not stop when it gets to the big leagues. The norm is a massive struggle. Trying to create some empathy there as a group is probably the most important thing to do."
Similar to Ross, Counsell was a longtime big-leaguer. The 16-year veteran had a serviceable career, being a part of the 1997 World Series champion Marlins and the 2001 World Series champion Diamondbacks. Continuing on his connections theme, Counsell flexed his player empathy muscles in a mutual appreciation of a game designed around huge helpings of failure.
"The challenge of this is different and that challenge excites me. The brand the Chicago Cubs are, you can't help but get excited about that."
Inevitably, questions came up about the departure from Milwaukee. Many questions were framed around the differences in resources and market. Counsell handled this portion tactfully, describing the desire for a different challenge. He described the situations as different, which presented an opportunity to try something new.
Jed's vision is "the health of what we look like going forward ... I believed in how Jed sold the vision."
I am sure Cub fans had their eyes and ears glued to the conference during the discussion of the vision that brought Counsell aboard. Admittedly, Counsell described the Cubs as “close” and as competitive, but no additional tea leaves were revealed by Hoyer--unsurprising, considering how well he hid this hiring form the national view.
"Do you have the courage to be yourself throughout this process; that is the first thing you learn in this position."
Ultimately, this is the type of comment the Cubs are looking for. Counsell is an established manager with an extraordinary reputation across the league. The Manager of the Year finalist has won divisions with PECOTA-blasted rosters, using his acumen and developed gut feel. In a game with thin margins, it is easy to understand the lack of interest Hoyer had in finding out if Ross could establish this feel.
The Cubs are big-game hunting once again. The league has taken notice. Now we await the vision Counsell and Hoyer are carrying into a competitive window for this ball club.
What did you think of today’s conference? Anything that sticks out to you that you liked or disliked?
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