The Cost of a Great Manager

November 9, 2023 - 10:14am -- Selcuk Gulboy

The Chicago Cubs “requested” their extremely well-liked manager, David Ross, to vacate his job on Monday. His boss, Jed Hoyer, flew to Ross’s home in Tallahassee, Florida, to give him the news in person.

It was a shocking surprise to Cubs fans because Ross had another year to go on his contract, with an option year. 

By all accounts, he was well-liked by Cubs players and fans. He was chosen by General Manager, Jed Hoyer, four years ago, after being carried off the field by loving Cubs players when the team won the World Series in 2016.

Ross retired and became a broadcaster on ESPN until the Cubs cajoled him into returning as manager after their disappointing 2019 season.

The Cubs have now rebuilt their farm system, signed high-value free agents, and seem poised to return to championship form in the coming years. 

Yet to the surprise of seemingly everybody, the Cubs removed David Ross from his job on Monday and hired their rival from 90 miles away in Milwaukee, Craig Counsell, who was looking to move on after nine successful years of managing the Milwaukee Brewers. 

The rumors had Counsell going to the New York Mets or Cleveland Guardians. Nobody thought Craig Counsell, considered by aficionados as perhaps the best manager in the game, to be headed to the hated Cubs, except the Cubs hierarchy.

The Cubs offered Counsell more money than any other manager in Major League history over five years. The quiet, studious-looking, former second baseman from Notre Dame, who sometimes liked to poke fun at the Cubs, quickly accepted.


I have been trying to figure out why this just happened. If almost everybody on the Cubs seemed to love or like Ross as a manager, and Hoyer was a very close personal friend, why did the Cubs replace him with Craig Counsell? 

I think the answer is quite simple. The Cubs feel ready to win the division and go to the World Series very soon. They had doubts that David Ross, the Beloved David Ross, could get the team to the finish line. 

As a lifelong student of the game, I have often asked myself how a team with a low payroll and few stars like the Brewers were winners, year after year. 

One clear answer was that Counsell got the most out of his players. The only comparable example is Tampa Bay, which always seems to win with average talent.

This past year, the Cubs had stars, passionate fans, money to spend, and possibly the Majors’ best farm system, yet they fell apart at the end of the season and did not make the playoffs.

In my opinion, a great manager consistently means five to seven more wins over a season with closely bunched teams.

They make excellent decisions on lineups, substitutions, maintain discipline, and know when players need time off. Most importantly, is that players consistently produce more for great managers like Craig Counsell. They believe they are winners. It is not about being liked or loved. It isn’t about being a substitute parent. It seems to be about being respected and understanding when a player, even an extremely talented one, just does not fit.

Milwaukee had a superb relief pitcher, who is possibly the best in baseball, Josh Hader. He was the fastest player to reach 400 strikeouts in baseball history. He seemed vital for the Brewers, but they traded him to San Diego during a pennant race with almost two years left on his contract.

A great manager understands how a team meshes. Great teams are more than just talent, strikeouts, and homers. 

When a team like Milwaukee wins year after year with average talent while a team like San Diego with great individual players continues to lose, you look at the manager.

The Cubs see something special in Craig Counsell. I do too. If he is worth five to seven more wins over a season than even a well-liked guy like David Ross, whose team faltered at the end and couldn’t stop their slide, the Cubs have made the right decision, even if it was an extremely tough one.

QUESTION: What ingredients do you think are most valuable to create a winning team or business?

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