Manager David Ross’ impact on a shortened Cubs season could be a positive one
Everything he’ll bring to the table when Opening Day arrives next month figures to be new and possibly even energizing. But after that?
Now where were we? Oh, yeah . . . can David Ross manage?
Three months of no baseball and lots of arguing between owners and players about money during the coronavirus pandemic left the Cubs’ biggest question far, far in the shadows.
But now that Major League Baseball is back, so is the question, though altered: Will we be able to find out what kind of manager Ross is in a 60-game, truncated season? Or, to put it in terms Ross easily will understand, will we be able to find out what he is in a tap dance of a season as opposed to a 162-game slow dance?
The guess here is that he’ll be well-suited to a shortened season. Everything he’ll bring to the table when camp opens Wednesday and the season three weeks later figures to be new and possibly even energizing. He’ll have an excellent opportunity to capitalize on the novelty of the situation.
But after that? See the original question.
Is there anything more intoxicating than a new love? Yeah, well, this isn’t that. This is a bunch of sweaty, grunting athletes who probably can belch a song a cappella. And this is a new manager who has had more ‘‘Dancing With the Stars’’ seasons as a competitor (one) than seasons as a manager (zero).
But there is something to be said for the power of newness. Think back to when Joe Maddon, Ross’ predecessor, came to Chicago in November 2014. Remember how fresh the breeze was that accompanied him into town? The fun? The sayings and gimmicks we hadn’t heard before? It eventually became staler than something you would find under a sofa cushion, but, man, it was cool at the beginning.
Ross has the chance to harness that newness and use it to give locomotion to a team that sat still during free agency, crying poor. There is still some talent on the roster. Sixty games really can be all fun and games. Sure, a manager can be outed as a man over his head in 60 games, but it’s more likely Ross will be able to use the energy and chaos of that sprint to affect his team positively.
There’s no hiding anything in a 162-game season. Everything gets dragged into the light. That will come for Ross, a former catcher with no coaching or managerial experience. That’s when we’ll know if he can do the job. But 60 games? I’m not sure how much depth there will be to an analysis of his performance in such a compact package. There will, however, be a lot of overreacting, one way or the other. If the Cubs lose their first 10 games, Ross will wonder why he’s being asked what he wants for his last meal. It’s possible I’ll be one of the people asking how he wants his steak cooked.
But life is in such flux right now that it’s hard to believe much bad would stick to anyone in a short season. There are bigger problems in the world. And it’s very much up in the air if baseball — or any other American professional sport — is going to be able to get through a season without shutting down because of COVID-19.
But let’s cross that germ-covered bridge when we come to it. For the moment, the only thing to do is stare at this 60-game season and ponder its oddities. Which teams will benefit and which won’t? Which managers and players?
As much as Ross has tried to distance himself from the fact that he’s friends with Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, his teammates from the Cubs’ 2016 World Series club, he can’t. They’re buddies. I don’t look on that favorably, but maybe palsy-walsy will work in a 60-game season. In the long term, I don’t think so. Ross has pushed back hard on the narrative that he’s too close to Bryzzo, and perhaps the friendship has been overstated. I’ll just say this: They might want to draw the line at footsie in the dugout.
Here’s another positive if you’re looking for reasons for hope in a shortened season: Ross is not Joe. That should be worth a boost. Sometimes you get an initial boost out of change for change’s sake. Players sometimes respond well precisely because the new boss isn’t the same as the old boss.
But no one knows. That’s why the season figures to be interesting. The Cubs are a veteran team. They have a new manager the front office thinks can reintroduce the energy and structure that had been missing the last few seasons.
I think Ross will, at least briefly. And ‘‘brief’’ is what this season is all about.