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Cubs’ David Ross — a transformational manager? — aiming for ‘multiple championships’

The mere fate of one of Major League Baseball’s blue-blood franchises now hinges on a first-time manager’s reputed next-level people skills.

New Cubs manager David Ross talks to the media during a press conference at Wrigley Field.
New Cubs manager David Ross talks to the media during a press conference at Wrigley Field.
David Banks/Getty Images

David Ross accepted a spanking-new Cubs cap from team president Theo Epstein, located its rightful home atop his dome and grinned broadly.

‘‘It feels good to put [this] back on,’’ he said.

There’s no taking it off now.

After the formality Monday of the official introduction of and news conference with the 55th manager in Cubs history, Ross, 42, is locked into the task — as Epstein put it, the ‘‘personal mission’’ — of transforming the culture and environment at the major-league level.

The mere fate of one of Major League Baseball’s blue-blood franchises now hinges on a first-time manager’s reputed next-level people skills.

‘‘In the end, I think we came back to David’s special gifts as a leader,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘The things you just can’t teach, he excels at so much.’’

Those things broadly can be defined as leadership and communication skills. More specifically, Epstein described a manager capable of telling players things they don’t want to hear without losing their ears. Rather, Epstein said he thinks Ross has the ‘‘magnetism’’ to get in players’ faces while only strengthening the bonds between the clubhouse and its skipper.

Predecessor Joe Maddon was a walking, talking cult of positivity, and that worked wonders for a while. If the front office sees Ross’ approach as being different from Maddon’s in one critical area, it’s spotting — and then confronting — problems at the player level head-on.

‘‘It’s hard to get away with things around him,’’ Epstein said.

Ross — signed through 2022 with a club option for 2023 — was a beloved member of the 2016 World Series-winning Cubs in the last of his 15 seasons as a big-league catcher. He alluded to the reality that his history with Cubs fans isn’t being written in indelible ink.

If he doesn’t win — big — as manager, the love affair might begin to sour in a hurry.

‘‘It’s not about 2016,’’ Ross said. ‘‘It’s an expectation of winning. It’s about winning championships. It’s about holding yourself accountable to the things you’ve found in winning. . . .

‘‘Let’s hold each other to a high standard because I want to win a championship. I want to win multiple championships. I want to bring championships back to Chicago.’’

Ross was the favorite all along to replace Maddon, but the interview process was rigorous. It involved about 13 hours of traditional interviewing, but one also must consider the three years before it during which Ross — in addition to working as an ESPN analyst — gained experience in the Cubs’ front office.

He collaborated with minor-league staff and immersed himself in the processes of preparing for games in various non-playing roles. He worked with scouts and assisted the Cubs’ higher-ups on draft preparation.

‘‘I understand now, as the head of this, I’m representing all those guys,’’ Ross said.

His second interview was intense from the start.

‘‘A lot of guys sitting in front of me with iPads, firing questions,’’ Ross said. ‘‘And the more they fired the questions and I talked about what I believed to the core, I knew that this is something I want to do because I was passionate. I sat up in my chair. I was getting emotional. I could feel the fire that I had inside me.’’

Ross was less vivid in his attempts to describe the type of manager he’ll be during games.

‘‘I’m going to be a manager that wants to watch the game and see how it plays out,’’ he said.

If Ross has a most pressing weakness, it’s clearly an absence of managerial experience. Upping the experience level of the coaching staff would seem to be an obvious move and can be expected.

He’ll need that sort of guidance during games. The extent to which he is guided by the front office is another matter. About any ‘‘puppet’’ talk, Ross said: ‘‘I will be making my own decisions.’’

‘‘I think 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.’’

If Ross is going to make the impact he hopes to make, those next-level people skills will be at the center of it all. Team bonding away from the field? It’s high on the list. Getting players to work together more in their pregame routines? It’s right up there, too.

Epstein recalled an old conversation with Ross, before the two knew each other well, in which the exec tried to impose his belief that the then-catcher should be calling pitches differently for a particular young pitcher.

‘‘Instead, it was some serious pushback right in my face,’’ Epstein said.

And how did that end?

‘‘I was like, ‘OK, yep, gotcha,’ ’’ Epstein said. ‘‘It was the farthest thing from a puppet. He is absolutely his own man.’’