Ross had no blueprint on how to handle his first season as a Major League manager, but quickly established himself in the Cubs’ dugout in a wild 2020 season.
David Ross saw a lot of baseball in his 15 years in the majors and won two World Series rings to boot.
Those experiences combined with his strong personality had many believing he would become the next great big-league manager or broadcaster.
Sure enough, he decided to do both.
And if you ask people what makes Ross who he is, you’ll get a variety of answers.
“He’s loud,” Cubs bench coach Andy Green said with a hearty laugh.
But ‘‘unique’’ is one word that will come up for sure.
Is a former player becoming an analyst unique? Nope. Is a former player becoming a manager unique? Not at all.
How about a former player- turned-analyst who also appeared on ‘‘Dancing With the Stars’’?
Now you’re talking, and that’s Ross.
But despite playing 883 major-league games with more than 2,600 plate appearances for 11 managers on seven teams, nothing could prepare Ross for what his first season as the Cubs’ manager would bring.
The coronavirus pandemic stopped the baseball world in its tracks last March, and after returning in July, the road for a first-year manager became a little more challenging, not to mention taking over one of the biggest jobs in the sport and replacing your former manager.
“If I take a step back, there’s a lot that goes into this job, and I don’t take it lightly,” Ross told the Sun-Times. “It’s like, ‘Wow, I’m the manager of the Chicago Cubs.’ I know that, but, like, what that entails? Did I ever picture myself [here] and grasping what that really meant to be in this seat? No, I didn’t.”
Don’t get him wrong. Was he prepared to take over for his old managerJoe Maddon? Yes, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer wouldn’t have hired him if he wasn’t.
Despite all his playing experience, however, the gravity of being the boss still hasn’t hit him.
“There’s definitely those moments that it’s kind of that shock factor,” he said.
While Ross’ coaching staff was made up of many of the same people he was familiar with from his time in Chicago, he still needed a right-hand man in the dugout. Green had seen Ross as a player and while he was the manager of the Padres.
But why would an established former manager want to be the bench coach of a first-timer?
“Shoot, man, anybody that’s spent any amount of time just being with him, you want to find that joy in your day,” Green said. “You want to love coming to work, and he creates an atmosphere that’s like that. I could feel that from the interview process.
“He wants to put in the work and believes success is associated with work and wants the team to get after it. Those things resonated really deeply with me, to be under somebody who I didn’t know how good he was going to be in front of a team talking. But he’s literally the best I’ve ever seen or heard.”
When Ross was hired to be the manager in November 2019, the decision brought its share of detractors. Many wondered if he could manage coming out of the broadcast booth and, specifically, if he could manage his former teammates/friends. They wondered if the Cubs were making a mistake and succumbing to nostalgia.
Ross’ journey began with all manner of questions swirling, and after his first win as Cubs skipper, Kyle Hendricks, who tossed a shutout, described what playing for his former catcher meant to him.
“That means the most to me; I love that guy,” Hendricks said after the game. “We just love playing for him. We’ve been waiting for this moment. . . . I told him I was going to go out there and get him his first win.”
But in a season in which the team’s offense scuffled, the bullpen had to have a midseason awakening and, oh, yeah, a global pandemic was taking place, the Cubs went 34-26 and won the National League Central.
“It’s not an easy transition, and he took over for a very accomplished manager,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “[The 2020 season] probably made the transition more difficult. They hit the ground running.
‘‘That’s what the Cubs did so well last year. Right out of the gate and just hit the ground running, and in a short season, that made all the difference in the world. Credit to him for getting his group right away to hit the ground as new manager. That’s an accomplishment, for sure.”
Ross finished in third place for NL Manager of the Year behind the Marlins’ Don Mattingly and the Padres’ Jayce Tingler.
“He can be great; he is great,” Green said. “He’s the type of person that would tell you that players go out there and win games. Great players make great managers, and there’s a lot of really good players on our club, and he’s always going to be deferential to those guys who are out there grinding every single day. But I’m confident that no matter what team he has, he can create the right environment and context to give that particular club the best opportunity to be the absolute best it can be over the course of a long career.
“That means you win the World Series; that means you’re in the playoffs consistently; that means your organization is moving in the right direction. So I think it’s always predicated on the players and the organization. But Rossy does everything else that’s necessary. I can’t think of many times in my life that I’ve seen players love and respect their manager at the level they love and respect him”
Ross heard all the doubts and the questions surrounding his hiring,and while he doesn’t begrudge anyone’s opinion, he didn’t just prove to the world that he could manage in the big leagues. He also proved it to himself.
“That was big,’’ Ross said. ‘‘I think we’re always looking, at least myself, at the unknown. I looked back, and I did the best I could last year and obviously made plenty of mistakes and probably did things that people didn’t see that my players made up for. And there’s tons of things that I would have done differently if I had the chance.
“When you get to be a finalist for Manager of the Year, it just means that the people around you, the people that are watching, they think you did a pretty good job, and that meant a lot to me.”
Being a players’ manager has always been in Ross’ DNA, and his attitude toward players already has benefitted the Cubs in free agency as Joc Pederson and Jake Arrieta singled out Ross as a reason behind joining the club.
“It is really special,” Arrieta said. “To play for a manager that caught one of my no-hitters is pretty cool.”
Ross describes his managerial style as a mixture of things he has culled from the skippers he played for. Jim Tracy, Terry Francona, Bobby Cox, Dusty Baker and Maddon are a few he has seen do the job over the years.
One aspect those managers have in common is their longevity, with Cox managing for 29 years with the Braves and Blue Jays.
But that long, tedious journey might not be in the cards for Ross.
He’s only 43, and while baseball is near and dear to his heart, his kids — Landri, Cole and Harper — are his heart. If the time ever came to be with them full-time, the decision wouldn’t be tough.
“There’s no place I’d rather be right now [than managing the Cubs],’’ he said. ‘‘But the same things that pulled me away from playing still tear me up when I have to leave my kids. . . . Finding that balance with them and not missing out on the special moments in their lives, that’s still very valuable to me.
“This job doesn’t have the longevity it used to. You don’t see the 20-year managers of the Bobby Cox era anymore. It’s probably five to 10 years, and there’s a change of voices or the message needs to change.
“[This] is a great opportunity. It’s a very unique and special job that I’ve been presented with and given, and I respect the hell out of it. I will do the best I can until they tell me to go home.”