How David Ross can change the equation for the Cubs
MESA, Ariz. – From players to fans to media, everybody was waiting for change to come for this Cubs roster all offseason.
While significant change never came to the group of players, the entire organization has a different look and feel to it with David Ross now in charge.
After five spring trainings under Joe Maddon where you never knew what to expect during morning stretch – an impromptu karaoke session, Maddon dressed as a hippie driving onto the field in his Scooby Doo-esque van – things are quite a bit more predictable under “Rossy.”
They’re still having fun – Kris Bryant mocking Anthony Rizzo’s stance in live batting practice, players and coaches loudly chirping and laughing during defensive drills – but it’s also very businesslike. It’s clear players are expected to bring it with intensity and effort each day as they get their work in.
When Ross was first hired, many wondered how he would make that transition from friend to manager, but that hasn’t been an issue at all so far.
“I definitely look at him differently,” Bryant said. “Obviously we have a good relationship and it’s something that we built before this, but now he’s our manager. What he says goes and that’s how I look at it. I’m not here to joke around with him. I’m gonna have fun and smile with him, but when he’s talking to me 1-on-1 or he’s talking to the group, there’s no nonsense, there’s no joking.
“I think it’s up to us, too, to take that route. If we’re out there smiling and giggling, that’s not where we want to be. We’re taking this serious and he’s taking this serious. I think there were questions when he was brought in like, ‘he’s too much of their friends,’ we made him an Instagram account, he’s Grandpa Rossy, whatever. All that’s out the door. He’s David Ross, manager of the Chicago Cubs.”
Sure, there will be time for fun and Ross is a big proponent of having fun, but there is also a lot of work to do for a Cubs team that missed the postseason last year and went one-and-done in the 2018 playoffs.
“We know that we’ve completely failed the last two years and there’s no nonsense this year,” Bryant said. “We’re strapping it on; we’re ready to go.”
But how much can Ross truly change for the Cubs as they try to get back on track in 2020?
It’s been the talk of camp so far and each person has their own unique perspective on the matter:
The manager himself believes he will make his greatest impact in conversations and relationships with the players with two-way communication that both builds guys up and lets them know if they need to do something differently.
“The main thing is there’s been a lot of success here – these guys have had a lot of experiences to pull from,” Ross said. “Just coming back and paying attention to some of the details – grinding at-bats, focusing on cleaning up our baserunning a little bit, some of the small details where some things have maybe gone awry in the last year or two.
“Nothing earth-shattering. I think it’s just a focus, attention to detail, working together, getting back to respecting one another, being accountable to your at-bats and to your teammates. I know that word’s been thrown around a lot, but just some small things in that of a professional at-bat and extending that lineup so we make that other pitcher work.”
Shortly after the first full-squad meeting where Ross delivered his inaugural speech, the Cubs chairman met with the media and made it a point to give props to his team’s new manager.
“I just watched Rossy give his first big team speech and the energy, the passion, his ability to communicate,” Ricketts said. “He’s a proven winner and I think he’s the right guy for us.”
Rizzo and Ross became fast friends when the veteran catcher signed with the Cubs before the 2015 season. Early in camp, the first baseman joked he was going to annoy his new skipper by following Ross around all over the place, but he’s also excited for the new era.
“He’s the manager, so he’s wearing all the caps,” Rizzo said. “But he’s been doing that for a long time, ever since I’ve known him. Just the energy he brings into a room uplifts it right away walking in, without him even saying hello. He’s so good at getting the best out of you. It’s in a good way, it’s in the right way and it’s fun.”
The Cubs left fielder isn’t quite sure what Ross’ managerial style will be yet, but he has an idea.
“He was pretty much a manager on the field [when he was a player],” Schwarber said. “If it’s the same as it was when he was a player, we’re gonna get through a lot of good things.”
While nobody in camp has said a bad word about Maddon’s tenure, everybody seems to be buying in that a fresh voice leading the group will be a good thing. Báez, in particular, is hoping Ross is loud and gets on the players when it’s necessary.
“If he has to get on your butt, he will,” Báez said. “That’s something good. It’s not to show you up, it’s to make you better.
“He makes us relaxed. He teaches us how everything is gonna go and how everything is step by step. I went through it when he was a player. I used to go up to him and ask a lot of questions and one time, he told me, ‘don’t ask so much, just let the experience teach you.’
“That’s our goal. He knows the frustration when we suck, when we struggle and when we’re doing good. Honestly, I’m really excited for him to be our manager.”
It didn’t take long for Ross’ impact to be felt throughout Cubs camp, even before all the position players had arrived.
“It’s only been two or three days here, but the energy/excitement level is way up,” Hendricks said last week. “I think a lot of that just has to do with Rossy. The couple meetings we’ve had already has been firing us up.
“It’s gonna be awesome [to have a new voice here]. That’s what we’ve been looking for, it’s what we needed – one unifying voice, someone that’s gonna say what needs to be said, keep the accountability around here and it’s clear as day already that Rossy’s doing that. I think that’s why there’s so much excitement this early in camp. We’re just ready to come in every day, see what he’s got to say for us and go out and get to work.”
“He can bring everything to the table,” the Cubs’ All-Star catcher said of the former-backup-catcher-turned-manager. “He’s just really passionate. He’s gonna demand a lot of us, he’s gonna ask us to do a lot and that’s the way he is. He’s super passionate about it.”
ALBERT ALMORA JR.
“Just his presence [will help],” Almora said of Ross. “I don’t think he’ll demand a lot performance-wise – obviously we need to perform, we need to win – but I think it’s just preparing the right way and playing the game hard. That’s what his main focus is.”
“The energy he’s bringing, it’s awesome,” said Chatwood, who is vying for the final rotation spot this spring. “He’s always been that way since I’ve been around him. It’s exciting, everybody respects him and we’re excited to get going.”
The rookie infielder is one of the players inside the clubhouse who never played with Ross as a teammate and wasn’t around for his most impactful years on the North Side. But Hoerner has gotten to know Ross a little bit over the last year or so as the latter was around the team in his special assistant role.
Now, Hoerner is in camp trying to make the Opening Day big-league club, but he’s also still trying to figure out how to address his new manager.
“It’s funny how different people in the locker room have said ‘hi’ to him their first time seeing him,” Hoerner said. “Some are like seeing an old friend and they just kinda push him around. And other people are like, ‘oh, Mr. Ross, nice to meet you.’ Which makes sense. I guess I’m kinda somewhere in between.”
“Rossy’s been great, “ Happ said. “His energy, his focus and just his passion for the game and for the Cubs is really cool. The way that comes through, I think everybody is – like KB said – ready to run through a wall for him.”