Moving on from Maddon: Cubs believe David Ross is ‘the right guy for this moment in time'


When the Cubs decided to bring Joe Maddon’s incomparable tenure as the team’s manager to an end last month, the reviews were in: He was the right guy at the right time.

Hindsight allows us to make that call, considering he did an awful lot of winning during his five seasons on the North Side. That stretch included the curse-breaking World Series championship in 2016, three straight trips to the NLCS, four straight trips to the playoffs and a grand total of 471 flyings of the “W” flag above the corner of Sheffield and Waveland.

But the Cubs decided that Maddon was not the right guy for the current moment, and it’s through that lens David Ross will be judged.

The backup catcher on Maddon’s championship-winning club in 2016, Ross now sits in the manager’s chair. His task is to do what Maddon didn’t do enough of in the eyes of team president Theo Epstein. So drawing inspiration from Maddon was somewhat of an unexpected turn during Ross’ introductory press conference Monday.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for Joe. I’m actually going to take a lot of his managerial style and some of the things that he brought to the Cubs. I’d be remiss not to bring some of his style of how he went about things,” Ross said. “I think Joe did a phenomenal job while he was here, but I’m going to put my own stamp on it.

“I don’t know exactly what that looks like yet. But some of those traits that I have are going to be a mixture of all those managers that I played for, and I played for a lot of great ones and having a lot of winning experiences. So I plan on mixing Joe in there heavy. It’s going to be big shoes to fill, but I’m excited to put my stamp on this team.”

Epstein surely expects that stamp to be differentiating enough that it returns the Cubs to the kinds of successes experienced early in Maddon’s tenure. But leaning on the things that won the Cubs a title in 2016 couldn’t be further from how the team plans to operate moving forward, Ross included.

Without really being asked the question, Epstein and Ross spent an awful lot of time pointing to exactly what makes Ross different from his predecessor. If you can navigate your way through Monday’s death-defying “accountability” drinking game, you’ll figure out that visits from David the Drill Sergeant are suddenly more preferable than ones from Simon the Magician.

“I’ve been a part of a lot of winning teams. I know what winning looks like,” Ross said. “There’s things that I’m going to expect out of the players, out of myself, that entail winning. Some of those things come with respect, trust, commitment, effort, hard work and accountability. These things are important to me, my players can expect that from me, and I will expect that from them.”

Doesn’t exactly sound like a chill ride in the Cousin Eddie, does it, dude?

The Cubs certainly aren’t throwing Maddon under his old RV as he starts a new era for himself in Southern California, with Epstein going as far to say he hopes Maddon “dominates” with the Los Angeles Angels. They’d like some of what made Maddon so effective to stick around with Ross, meaning the new skipper needs to do his best Goldilocks impression — a strange picture to paint, I’m aware, considering Ross’ follicular situation — and figure out a middle ground, figure out what’s just right for these Cubs.

“It's not uncommon to see so-called players managers, who just always paved the way for players, kind of defer to them, give them the path of least resistance. And loyalty follows because you're making things a little easier on the players. But that's not really productive in the long run. That's sort of a sugar high. That doesn't last,” Epstein said. “And then there's other managers who need to flex their muscles all the time and make their authority well known all the time and get in players’ faces and run an incredibly tight ship. And that's it's own type of sugar high because in the long run, if you can't connect and you can't inspire neutral loyalty, you're probably not going to have that effective of a team.

“I think it's really hard to find that middle ground, and David's just always uniquely gifted that way where he can be hard on guys. He will be very direct, he can cut right to the core of the issue. It's hard to get away with anything around him because he'll hold you accountable. Yet, somehow, he's just got that magnetism and that personality where guys want to be around him. I've seen it where he's leveled a guy and told him exactly what he needs to hear and later that night, they're the ones going out to dinner that night to keep talking it over and also having a good time. He's uniquely gifted that way.”

Ross drawing inspiration from Maddon is no shocker, and the former big-league catcher listed several other of his former managers who will influence his style, including the famously not-so-chill Bobby Cox.

Even for the guys who hired him, though, it will take meaningful regular-season games to figure out what kind of manager Ross will be and whether or not he can deliver enough to cure the Cubs of what’s ailed them these past two seasons.

What Epstein does believe at the moment is that Ross fills one of those Maddon criteria: He’s the right guy at the right time for this team.

“I think he is the right guy for this moment in time,” Epstein said. “It’s no secret, I think we have to find a new winning environment around the team, establish a new culture, a new direction. Sure, it’s going to draw on some of the things that have worked here in the past. No culture is completely new.

“He’s all business, and he has really high standards. He knows the hard work that’s necessary to win, and he knows some of the confrontation that’s necessary to win.

“You can’t just show up. We’re not talented enough. I don’t think anyone is in modern baseball to just show up and have that talent manifest on the field. We’re not. So for this moment in time, this is still a talented group. It’s going to be a group that’s changing and a group that’s growing and a group that’s going to demand new things of themselves and push themselves to a higher level. I think he’s a perfect guy.”

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