CHICAGO — New Cubs manager David Ross and team president Theo Epstein pushed back on the notion that Ross simply will be an extension of the front office after working as a special assistant in it over the past three years.
Ross is set out to be his own man.
“I will be making my own decisions and continue with feedback from the group,” Ross said in his introductory news conference Monday. “I want to stay true to who I am. These guys responded to me when I was here as a player. I don’t think that will change as a manager.”
Epstein was even more blunt in his assessment, making sure everyone understands Cubs brass won’t be pulling the strings with its first-year manager.
“If you’re a front office and you want a puppet, you don’t hire David Ross,” Epstein said. “Anyone that knows Rossy, knows that. He is absolutely his own man.”
Ross signed a three-year deal to replace Joe Maddon, who won a World Series with the team while having Ross as his backup catcher and a key team leader. With the Cubs and Maddon agreeing to part ways after the season, it’s Ross’ turn now to take the helm after the Cubs missed the postseason for the first time in five years.
The organization hopes Ross will exert the same strong personality he showed as a teammate, when sometimes uncomfortable conversations were needed in the dugout and clubhouse.
The team views some of the recent problems it’s had as a lack of accountability. That won’t be an issue for Ross — despite being known as the congenial “grandpa Rossy” when he was a player for the Cubs.
“I think maybe there is a misconception of the fun-loving grandpa Rossy, which I love and am very thankful for, but I don’t think that’s me in the dugout as much as I would love to say I’m that guy,” Ross said. “The grandpa Rossy thing is a little bit overblown.”
Although the Cubs are hiring a player from their championship season, they are adamant they want to look forward not backward. Epstein called it a “crutch” to fall back on the successes of the past, and Ross agreed.
“It’s not about 2016,” he said. “It’s about the expectation of winning. It’s about winning championships. It’s about holding yourself accountable to things that you found in winning. Let’s emphasize those.”
Added Epstein: “When there is too much of looking back to 2016, it can become a crutch that prevents you from moving forward … I just have all the confidence in the world he’s going to establish a new direction, a new voice, that’s completely looking forward not back.”
As for his managerial style, Ross said he’s in wait-and-see mode. One thing is for sure, though: He will let the game tell him what he needs to do.
“I’m going to be a manager that wants to watch the game and see how it plays out,” he said. “I think managers that go in with a preset notion can sometimes get in trouble.”
And as you might expect out of a longtime backup catcher-turned-first-year manager, he knows his strength will be with his players on day one. In fact, he’s relying on it until he gets some experience managing a game. The team is hopeful it will all come together for him as together they enter a new era of Cubs baseball.
“The vibe in the dugout, how I carry myself, the communication skills, the relationships,” Ross said, reeling off things he thinks will come as second nature to him. “The in-game stuff is going to take me a minute.”