What excites Craig Counsell about opportunity with Cubs
Craig Counsell isn’t the type to avoid doing his homework.
He’s prepared for any situation and decision — except maybe the interview that changed his life.
“The Cubs had a manager and that really makes you not think about them,” Counsell said at his introductory press conference inside the Cubs’ offices at Wrigley Field. “I was interested but cautious, I guess is probably the best way to say it.”
Counsell, the 56th manager in the organization’s history, quickly studied up. After taking a phone call from Jed Hoyer on Nov. 1, Counsell drove down that same day to the Chicago suburbs to meet Hoyer — a get-together that only Hoyer, general manager Carter Hawkins and owner Tom Ricketts knew about. By the end of the day, Counsell knew what Hoyer and the Cubs were all about: an organization on the rise looking to take the next step.
“You’re kinda trying to figure out what to do and I think at some point over a pretty long timespan I just thought that a new challenge was where I had to push myself,” Counsell said. “Really it’s about growth, man. It’s about trying to push yourself to a place that you’re not at right now. That’s scary. I’m sitting up here, I’m a little bit scared. I’m sitting up here, you’re a little bit uncomfortable. But that’s how you get to a better place. That’s how you push yourself as a person to a better place.
“It is time to be a Cub. There is momentum happening here and it feels close. That means there’s a really exciting future ahead of us. And now it’s my job to be part of taking us to the next level. That’s the plan.”
Craig Counsell knows that it’s different here. pic.twitter.com/0PqR8xrWd5— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) November 13, 2023
The contract — $40 million over 5 years — was a selling point, too, but it wasn’t a be-all, end-all. The challenge he’s set to face is appealing, too.
“There’s a financial component to this, obviously there is,” Counsell said. “But my job is to win baseball games, no matter what. You go in the dugout and your job is win a baseball game. Doesn’t matter who your team is, that’s kind of how I see what I do. Doesn’t matter what’s around you; once the game starts your job is to win a baseball game. You keep it that simple. There’s no reason to get past that.
“I think if you start complicating it, you get yourself into trouble.”
Both parties can envision themselves winning plenty of baseball games.
Counsell sees the framework for a pretty solid team — they won 83 games in 2023, after all. But that means there’s opportunity for growth for him personally and the organization.
The 53-year-old had almost done it all in Milwaukee — he played for the Brewers, he’s worked in the front office, managed his hometown team and led them to arguably the most successful run in franchise history. Instead of going back, he was looking for something new.
For the Cubs, it was about finding a way to squeeze out the most wins possible. The team finished a game out of a playoff spot and Hoyer said at the end of the season that the team had “left wins on the table.” So, for all their admiration for David Ross, Hoyer knew it was an opportunity to improve the organization.
“As a manager, I think he can make me better, make our front office better,” Hoyer said. “He was talking about needing a new challenge. I felt like for us, it was also a challenge as well. Let’s push this organization to get to a different place and I felt like he could do that.”
His whole managerial career, Counsell has learned how to not only do more with less, but thrive with fewer resources at his disposal. That doesn’t mean the job magically gets easier since there’s more available to him 90 miles south of Milwaukee. The Padres and Mets trotted out record-setting payrolls and both missed the playoffs, so it’s not as simple as throwing money at a problem.
“Look, the challenge of this is different and that challenge excites me,” Counsell said. “It’s part of the equation. It’s part of I think, how you kind of tackle the problem of being a great baseball team and being a great franchise.”
Counsell’s role in that starts in doing his homework. He’s slowly begun to reach out to players and coaches, trying to find a feel for how the team will look in 2024. But the last few weeks have been such a sprint, that he’s looking for an opportunity to pump the brakes a little and make sure he does everything the right way — like he’s done throughout most of his managerial tenure.
“I’ve had this philosophy just stack little good decisions on top of each other — just keep stacking a good decision on top of each other,” Counsell said. “And then you wake up one day, and you’re sitting in a pretty good place. And all those good decisions have kind of formed a backbone of your organization. And you’re sitting in a very, very strong place.
“So, getting the little things, right, and those little decisions, right, and just keep getting that next decision, right, keep getting that next decision, right. That’s where it adds up over time. And that’s when you wake up one day, and your organization’s in an incredibly strong place.”