Remember when naysayers decried the Cubs’ hiring of David Ross as Theo Epstein putting a yes-man in the managerial role? Ross couldn’t manage his former teammates, or so the criticism went, because they were his buddies and they’d just walk all over him. While anyone who’d harbored such fallacious beliefs probably isn’t swayed by a week’s worth of games, it’s pretty obvious to everyone else that the transition from Grandpa Rossy to Manager David is going quite well.
We could actually go back to his first few days on the job, when spring training was still a thing and players were reporting to camp without a care in the world about COVID. Kris Bryant was so pumped up by his new skipper’s motivational speech, perhaps a derivation of the address Ross presented to the team brass as part of his interview, that the soft-spoken slugger said he wanted to run through a wall.
“I’ve seen the intensity,” Bryant told Patrick Mooney ($) at the time. “But to see how he is as a manager — I don’t even know how to describe it. It was one of the best speeches I’ve heard from anybody in this organization. Theo gave a really good one, too. Just completely different sides of them, which I totally appreciated it. I already feel like the change is happening.”
The shortened season changed things up a little bit, removing pretty much any additional runway Ross might have otherwise had to get off the ground with his new charges. That’s especially true of the bullpen, which has been a sore spot in the early going. Even with a few extra arms out there, or because of the extra arms, finding a balance has been difficult, to say the least.
When it comes to the team as a whole, though, the Cubs are having more fun and appear to be playing with the intensity that’s been missing in the past few seasons. Epstein and the rest of the front office have openly lamented the loss of that spark before and, while they also said they weren’t trying to recreate the blueprint from 2016, it was clear that hiring Ross was an attempt to relight the flame.
Based on the results and the feedback from nearly every single player, the plan is working. The Cubs aren’t just enjoying themselves in the dugout and on the field, they’re playing better baseball. That isn’t a fluke.
“[Ross] demands attention to detail,” Jon Lester told reporters. “And guys know that when we show up every day. So, when we’re out doing our work you kind of feel like he’s always watching you. Not in a bad way, but you want to do the right things to keep the line moving offensively or keep the line moving as far as our rotation.”
Ross was a father figure as a player and he’s continued that in his new role, standing up for his guys when commissioner Rob Manfred insinuated that players weren’t doing enough when it came to the league’s safety protocols. He’s their protector, almost a shepherd, and he’s not just playing favorites based on existing relationships.
“It’s definitely that sense of, for lack of a better term, that dad feeling,” Ross said, “where every one of the guys you feel like is a child of yours. And no matter if one is doing well, you worry about the ones that aren’t doing well and how to help them.”
Ross is also acutely aware of the mental side of the game and how he needs to foster players’ well-being beyond just what’s going on at the ballpark. That would be important under any circumstances, but it’s particularly so in this turbulent season with so many different social issues influencing our daily lives.
Even if you believe it’s too early for definitive statements about Ross as a manager, it’s impossible to deny that the Cubs look and feel different from what we’ve seen since at least the 2017 season. Trite though it may sound at this point, the edge and urgency that went missing in the time since Manfred’s piece of metal arrived at Wrigley have returned. With all due respect to the players themselves, Ross is the one leading the charge in that regard.
Now as long as he can figure out a way to knock the rust from Craig Kimbrel that doesn’t involve sending him out with anything less than a 10-run lead, I won’t have to change my tune.