David Ross is no stranger to tough love expressed through motivational smack talk. Hell, that’s his milieu and a big part of the reason the Cubs hired him to replace the most successful manager in club history despite having no managerial experience of his own. They wanted someone who was willing to push his players and even piss them off a little bit when needed, then come alongside them and offer a hug or a beer.
That paradox of leadership has on full display during the Cubs’ intrasquad scrimmages as Ross tries to root for both the batters and the pitchers trying to get them out. When Willson Contreras homered against Craig Kimbrel, the manager was ecstatic about the result while no doubt also harboring concern for what it might mean about his closer’s effectiveness.
“That’s the challenge, right?” Ross told the media. “I just like to voice my opinion, like, ‘Good swing,’ or ‘Good pitch,’ or ‘Way to swing it.’ And one of the pitchers said, ‘It’s really weird to have your manager rooting against you.’ I tried to tell him I’m on everybody’s side.”
Sometimes Ross finds himself celebrating and chiding at the same time, like when Kyle Schwarber launched a Tyler Chatwood pitch deep to center for his second homer in as many fake games. The left fielder didn’t display enough hustle for his skipper’s liking, so he heard about it.
“I yelled at Schwarbs to run, because he was kind of fixin’ to walk it off,” Ross quipped. “So, yeah, I don’t know. I balance it. I’m a fan, too. I get kind of some fandom at moments, where I’m just like, ‘Man, this is really cool to watch a lot of this talent play out in front of me,’ and we’re all on the same side.”
But as Schwarber crossed home and headed back to the dugout, Ross was right there to greet him with an air high-five. There was no live footage of the exchange since the Cubs’ scrimmages aren’t being broadcast by anything other than beat writers’ social media, so we are left to wonder whether Schwarber repeated the same explicit request he made to Ross in Game 2 of the 2016 World Series.
In case you’d forgotten, the Cubs ended up winning that game and the series and Ross revealed Saturday that his office wall is adorned with the first W flag to fly over Wrigley Field following that victory.
David Ross sharing on IG that his office is now decorated with the first W flag to fly over Wrigley Field after the Chicago Cubs won the 2016 World Series.https://t.co/zpp3M5X14V pic.twitter.com/ccVrA2w6rR
— Cubs Insider (@realcubsinsider) July 11, 2020
While there’s no forgetting that long-awaited triumph, Cubs leadership has repeated several times over the last few years that they’re not looking backward in an attempt to revel in or return to the blueprint of 2016. Okay, then why hire a guy who is the embodiment of that title team? After all, Ross played with most of the current core and could easily be viewed as an attempt to recreate something that was lost.
Is that really such a bad thing, though? By hiring Ross, the Cubs weren’t trying to piece together the same team. The goal was to increase the level of accountability and trust that was present in Joe Maddon’s early years before eroding quickly and publicly over the last two seasons. Whether Ross can do that to a significant degree and whether it even matters may be the barometer of success in this new role.
I’ve gone on record as saying that I do believe chemistry is important, even if it’s as an incalculable advantage no one will ever even understand. Talent will win out in the end, though it’ll take a boatload of good fortune and a few funky breaks to reach the top of the pile in a season that figures to be unlike any we’ve ever seen.
Will Ross playing both sides of the fence lead the Cubs to greener pastures? I’d like to think so. For now, it at least gave me something to write about on a Sunday morning.