Hiring David Ross as manager would be a step in the same direction for Cubs
President Theo Epstein would have to do a lot of work to convince people that rah-rah Grandpa Rossy is any different than rah-rah Joe Maddon.
Being a former “Dancing With the Stars’’ competitor should not disqualify a man from becoming the manager of a major-league baseball team. But it could become problematic if he has to discipline two players for doing a rendering of the death scene from “Romeo and Juliet” on the field during the seventh-inning stretch.
“I just wanted to express myself like you did as a dancer!’’ one will say to the manager.
“Why did he get to play Juliet and not me?’’ the other will say.
So you can see the issue if David Ross becomes the Cubs’ next manager. Problems. Headaches. The battle for creative control.
Ross was the extremely popular Cubs catcher who hit .203 in his two seasons with the team and homered in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, and of course I kid about concerns that he competed in ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars,’’ a show that answers America’s deepest need to samba. One look at him as a steely-eyed manager will make everyone forget the sequined Cubs jersey he wore on ‘‘DWTS.’’ The “Magic Mike Live’’ jazz dance act, the one in which he tore off his pants and wore a T-shirt with defined abs painted on — that’s an image not so easy to erase.
There has been a lot of hand-wringing the last several days over why Cubs president Theo Epstein decided to walk away from manager Joe Maddon. Underneath all the compliments the two men rubbed on each other like suntan lotion during the announcement (speaking of unfortunate imagery) was what seemed obvious: The Cubs were tired of Joe’s act. Whether you want to read that as fatigue over his inability to get the team to play hard this season, his club’s ineffectiveness on the road, his questionable strategic decisions, his powerful need to be noticed or his team-building antics, it makes no difference. But there’s only so much of Maddon’s grooviness that certain people can take.
Which brings us back to “Grandpa Rossy,’’ as his younger teammates affectionately called him when he was a Cub. He fit in perfectly with Maddon’s petting-zoo cuteness. He was enthusiastic, a one-man glee club. Since Maddon was sent away Sunday, Ross supporters have been quick to point out their man’s willingness as a player to confront teammates for mistakes or a lack of hustle. That’s important if the Cubs are going to follow the age-old formula of replacing one manager with his exact opposite in terms of approach and attitude.
So if Maddon was touchy-feely and unable to rouse his players to try harder, it would make perfect sports sense for the next manager to have been a former Green Beret who likes to eat unfiltered cigarettes for breakfast. That’s why Ross would seem to be a tough sell, public image-wise. What Chicago knows of Ross is that he was always smiling, he was a great teammate, and that favorite sons Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant were particularly smitten with him. The city also knows that he retired to spend more time with his family, then became an ESPN baseball analyst, wrote a book, became a special assistant to the Cubs’ baseball operations department and did ‘‘DWTS.’’
Epstein has never been one to follow the crowd, so he might not be beholden to the idea that a bad-cop manager must follow a good-cop manager. But he’d have to do a lot of work to convince people that Ross is something different than the aw-shucks Grandpa Rossy persona he played up as a Cubs player. Even before Ross hit that home run in Game 7, his last major-league at-bat, the fans at Wrigley Field adored him. If you had asked them why they were so taken with him, I’m not sure they would have been able to express it. That he was 39 and that Bryzzo idolized him? Maybe that was enough.
Will it be enough to make him a good manager? I have no earthly idea. He played 15 years in the big leagues but has never managed. That’s not a résumé that screams “Hire him, immediately.’’ But this is a different world, one in which more and more front offices want to handle lineups and strategic questions. Teams don’t see a need to pay top dollar for a manager anymore. By that criteria, Ross is as attractive as anybody else.
But if the Cubs were to hire him, it would seem to be a soft-shoe step in the same direction they took with the gimmicky Maddon. Ross would fit in with Clark the mascot, “Go, Cubs, Go,” the Rickettses’ Wrigleyville theme park and all the other snuggly aspects of the operation that can be marketed.
But if Epstein is serious about going in a different direction, he should do the hustle away from Ross.