It’s David Ross after all.
Time to get to know him all over again.
Ross will be the Cubs’ next manager, the Sun-Times confirmed Wednesday. Other candidates had been informed of the decision. The former catcher could be named to the post as soon as Thursday, the first World Series off day.
Ross, 42, who has been an ESPN analyst and special assistant with the Cubs since retiring after the 2016 World Series, will be the team’s youngest manager since Jim Riggleman was hired a couple of weeks before his 42nd birthday in 1994. Ross has not been a manager at any level and has no coaching experience.
The Twins’ Rocco Baldelli and the Rays’ Kevin Cash are the only current managers who are younger than Ross, though that could change with a handful of jobs still open across the league.
“I always have greater comfort hiring for roles in which the person has done the role, but there are ways that can be overcome,” team president Theo Epstein said on Day 1 the Cubs’ offseason. “Belief, skills, personal attributes can all outweigh a lack of experience.”
Ross won two World Series as a player, with the Red Sox (2013) and Cubs (2016). Especially close with Jon Lester, Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward, he is considered an exceptional leader.
“Rossy is a very attractive candidate, and he’s going to be evaluated on the merits for what he can bring to the table as a major-league manager given his skills, given his experiences, given his worldview, given what he knows about winning,” Epstein said.
Instant critics of the move will point to Ross’ lack of experience. It will make him — and Epstein — an easy target as the Cubs strive for another World Series title while the current championship window is open.
Ross has been most visible as a broadcaster — not to mention as a contestant on“Dancing with the Stars”— since hanging up his catching gear for good.
“If it was Rossy, we’d obviously sit down. I’ve talked to him about it before,” first baseman Rizzo said on the final weekend of the season. “He’s in a really good place right now at home with his family, what he’s doing; he’s happy. It’s the pros and the cons.
“He’s my biggest mentor in this game, player-wise, him and [former Cubs coach Eric] Hinske. Can it work? Yes, but I don’t know which direction we’re going in.”
In recent days, Astros bench coach Joe Espada seemingly became a strong candidate for the job. He interviewed twice, traveling to Chicago on off days each time as the Astros gun for a championship.
The Cubs also interviewed veteran manager Joe Girardi, recently fired Phillies manager Gabe Kapler and internal candidates Mark Loretta and Will Venable to replace star Joe Maddon, who will be introduced as the Angels’ manager on Thursday.
Espada is believed to be a candidate for the Padres and Pirates openings. Loretta, the Cubs’ bench coach, interviewed with the Padres — for whom he was an All-Star infielder — and Venable, the Cubs’ first-base coach, interviewed with the Giants.
Girardi is widely believed to be the front-runner for the Phillies job.
Ross will be charged with, among other things, getting more from the Cubs’ young core of position players than predecessor Maddon was able to get over the last couple of seasons. Epstein has emphasized the word “accountability,” which for Ross will mean getting players to work harder, work together more and improve their attention to detail.
Lester also played with Ross in Boston, and Ross was his personal catcher there and on the North Side.
“If it’s Rossy, then I’m sure we’ll butt heads just like I butted heads with [Maddon],” Lester said. “But, at the same time, I’ll respect the hell out of him and he’s my boss. He makes a decision, you have to respect that.”
Ross will make a whole bunch of decisions now, and he’ll be under the microscope throughout a critical 2020 and beyond for the Cubs.
His popularity, stemming from his sizable role in an unforgettable championship, will help his cause publicly, but only to a point. The Cubs are in win-now mode, and there will be a low tolerance among fans, at least, for rookie mistakes or any other signs of weakness from the manager.
Speaking of fans, a Twitter poll conducted Tuesday showed a clear preference for Espada over Ross, with a 70-30 split of more than 2,200 votes.
That wasn’t personal, of course. It likely was about coaching experience as well as moving on from 2016.
If the Cubs go down in one-and-done history with Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Rizzo and the rest of their core, it will be seen as an enormous opportunity missed. Like the 1985 Bears, this team was intended to win it all more than once.
Now, it’s on Ross to find all the right buttons to press.