New Cubs manager David Ross says days of Grandpa Rossy are over, but only time will tell
Ross, team president Theo Epstein and others have tried to fight the perception that the 42-year-old will be a buddy to the players, some of whom were his former teammates.
David Ross could have pushed back harder against his “Grandpa Rossy’’ persona, the one Cubs fans loved so much when he was a player, but that would have involved hernia surgery.
It wouldn’t have been a good look for the team’s new manager to limp away from his introductory news conference. There figures to be plenty of opportunity for Ross to take a beating while he’s trying to get the team back on course.
No, Monday was for letting the former Cubs backup catcher explain who he is and who he isn’t. He wants everyone to know that Grandpa Rossy — 2016 World Series champion, lovable elder statesman as a player, rah-rah leader and supportive grandfather figure to stars Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant — is gone. I would have taken it a step further and had a mock funeral at Wrigley Field, maybe buried him at home plate, but that’s just me.
“I know there’s a big, fun-loving Grandpa Rossy theme out there, but if you ask any of my friends or ex-players what kind of teammate I was, I didn’t shy away from the tough conversations,’’ he said at the team’s headquarters. “I know there’s a strong relationship with me and Jon Lester. If I would have been miked up for some of those conversations on the mound, they were rarely friendly conversations.
“I think there’s a little bit of a misconception of maybe the fun-loving Grandpa Rossy, which I love and I’m very thankful for, but I don’t think that’s me in the dugout, as much as I would love to say that I’m that guy.’’
Cubs president Theo Epstein said he had been looking for “someone with natural gifts to lead players and lead an organization. David has always been aware of the ingredients, all the little things that are necessary to create a winning environment.’’
Ross, Epstein and others have tried to fight the perception that the 42-year-old will be a buddy to the players, some of whom were his former teammates. They say he wasn’t afraid as a player to get on those same teammates when they were doing something wrong.
We can talk for days about this, but we’ll know if it’s true as the months and years go along. If his players are too comfortable, we’ll know it. If Rizzo is wearing a smoking jacket and carrying a snifter when he’s in the field, we’ll know it.
While we’re on the subject of perceptions, there’s the one of Ross as a man who will do Epstein’s bidding.
“If you’re a front office and you want a puppet, you don’t hire David Ross,’’ Epstein said. “Anyone who knows Rossy knows that.’’
The bottom line is that nobody knows who and what Ross will be as a manager. I don’t know, you don’t know and Epstein, presumably having asked candidate Ross every question he could think of in the interview process, still can’t be sure he knows. When he hired Joe Maddon in October 2014, he had a pretty good idea he knew what he was getting. Maddon had enjoyed a lot of success as manager of the Rays. With Ross, everything is complicated by the fact that he has never managed a baseball game. So anything anybody tells you about Ross the skipper is guesswork.
There are all sorts of questions that needed answering. What kind of strategist will he be? In an age in which front offices make a lot of tactical and roster calls, will Ross even be allowed to make decisions? We’ll all have to hang up and wait for the answer.
The 55th manager in Cubs history spelled out what he expects from his players and what they can expect from him: respect, trust, commitment, effort and accountability. Pick out any or all of those elements, apply them to the 2019 Cubs and see what you get. A team that goes 51-30 at home and 33-48 on the road, as that one did, has issues, most of them between the ears. The new manager needs to do something about that, though Ross couldn’t come up with a good answer for the home/road discrepancy.
He sounded confident he’d be able to figure it out.
“I know what winning looks like,’’ he said.
A sizable portion of Cubs fans adored Ross the player. Trying to explain that phenomenon isn’t easy. Those fans loved him because he hit a home run in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. But before that ball left his bat, he had hit .203 in two seasons with the Cubs and was still adored. He had come to Chicago because he was Lester’s personal catcher. He was enthusiastic. Somehow, that snowballed into his becoming a cult figure. There was retirement, a memoir, an ESPN gig, a “Dancing With the Stars’’ turn and now this.
What a country.
“Cubs fans, the way you’ve treated me over the years, I want to say publicly, thank you so much,’’ he said at the news conference. “A lot of love has come from them. I know it may not always be that way moving forward.’’
Then he laughed the laugh of someone who knows things will have to change. Beginning with Grandpa Rossy’s existence.