Theo Epstein heaps high praise on David Ross early in his managerial career
The old adage in baseball that a manager is judged mainly on wins and losses has taken on a little bit of a different tone this summer.
For starters, it’s a shortened season, so each win and loss has more of an impact on the overall standings.
Beyond that, current managers are also responsible for helping keep their players safe amid an ongoing pandemic. They’re aiding in enforce protocols from Major League Baseball and each individual team and helping to lay out guidelines for players to follow to remain healthy.
No matter how you judge a manager’s success, David Ross has earned rave reviews in his first season as the field general for the Cubs.
His team finished the first 10 games with an 8-2 record, no player has tested positive for the coronavirus since the intake process began in late June and the Cubs look hungry and focused as they attempt to accomplish something special in a whirlwind season.
When asked about his manager Tuesday evening, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein spoke passionately and emphatically about the job Ross has done to steer the ship in the early going.
“He creates energy all by himself,” Epstein said. “He creates accountability. The players have so much respect for him that I think they want to do well for him. There’s a sense of not wanting to let him down. For a first-year manager, he’s been incredibly aware of all the little things that go into keeping an organization and major-league team functioning and humming along — anticipating problems before they happen, having those extra conversations.
“He’s been self-aware, aware of his own lack of experience in certain areas or elements of his personality that don’t fit in a given situation. He’s done a wonderful job delegating, empowering his coaching staff, empowering veteran leaders — challenging them to step up and do more and they’ve responded.
“So yeah, I think it’s been everything we could ask for 1/6th of the way into his first season. As a manager, he plays an important role in being responsible for the terrific environment that you see around here right now.”
That environment Epstein is talking about includes how diligent the roster has been about following COVID protocols.
It’s also the energy and intensity the dugout has brought on every single pitch — an element that has become vital in a fanless environment. Every time a Cubs hitter even so much as fouls a ball off, the dugout erupts in support.
When Anthony Rizzo’s walk-up song comes on ahead of his first at-bat, the coaching staff and the entire 30-man roster claps and stomps along in tune to the beat.
Dugout energy check: pic.twitter.com/o8ofb9NeWI— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) August 5, 2020
“The biggest thing with Rossy is just his energy,” Jon Lester said. “The presence that he brings when he’s in a dugout or in a clubhouse. He demands respect, he demands attention to detail and guys know that when we show up to play every day.
“When we’re out doing our work, you kinda feel like he’s always watching you, not in a bad way. You just kinda want to do the right things to keep the line moving.”
Epstein also commended the way Ross proactively handled the Craig Kimbrel situation in the bullpen. With the veteran closer clearly struggling early in a shortened season, Ross didn’t wait to make a change for the 9th inning until it was too late and when he did make a move, he didn’t throw Kimbrel under the bus and instead defended his former teammate.
The Cubs knew Ross possessed exceptional leadership abilities as a player, but they weren’t quite sure how that would translate to his role as a manager.
But Ross’ high level of emotional intelligence and his “feel” for how to navigate tricky interpersonal situations has served him well so far.
“He has stepped in and helped address some things that have been lingering for years,” Epstein said. “And to do that his first month on the job – the first two weeks as the regular season manager — is just really impressive. He’s fearless, he’s alert, observant and has great emotional intelligence knowing when to step in to challenge a player and call him out and knowing when to step in and offer a kind word in support and make it really clear that he’s got a player’s back.
“I think that’s a big part of being a leader and being a manager in the major leagues these days. He’s just got really good feel for it and he has not eased his way in. He’s on it in a very, very impressive way.”
Epstein has been particularly impressed at how Ross hasn’t been afraid to push guys to make them better individually or to make the group better as a whole.
Late last season as the Cubs missed the playoffs for the first time since 2014, Epstein gave an honest assessment of his team by stating the whole was not as good as the sum of the parts.
It’s still early, of course, and this has been the strangest season in MLB history, but the Cubs president credits Ross with helping to get the organization back on the right path.
“Even in the best organizations — the most successful teams — there’s a lot of things that go wrong,” Epstein said. “There’s dysfunction in every organization. No one’s got perfect character or perfect behavior or perfect execution. You can see that as a problem or you could see that as an opportunity.
“And man, he’s really stepped in and helped a lot of guys. He’s helped a lot of guys confront things that maybe they’ve taken for granted and work on addressing them to make them better. It’s just impressive that someone new in the job is willing to tackle things that need to be tackled that aren’t always comfortable.”