Column: David Ross was hired to kick some assets. The new Cubs manager will have to prove he’s nobody’s puppet.

Chicago Tribune Sports 1 month ago
Theo Epstein, David Ross and Jed Hoyer pose after Ross was introduced as the new Cubs manager on Oct. 28, 2019. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)
New Cubs manager David Ross takes reporters' questions at the American Airlines Conference Center next to Wrigley Field on Oct. 28, 2019. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)
The Cubs introduce David Ross as the 55th manager in franchise history on Oct. 28, 2019. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)
Theo Epstein, David Ross and Jed Hoyer at the press conference to announce Ross as the new Cubs manager on Oct. 28, 2019. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)
Theo Epstein hands David Ross a Cubs jersey at the press conference to announce Ross' hiring as the team's new manager. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)
David Ross shakes hands with Theo Epstein as Jed Hoyer looks on at Ross' first press conference as Cubs manager. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)
David Ross poses for photographs with his parents, Jackie and David Ross, at the American Airlines Conference Center next to Wrigley Field on Oct. 28, 2019. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)
New Cubs manager David Ross on Oct. 28, 2019. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)
New Cubs manager David Ross poses for photographs at the American Airlines Conference Center next to Wrigley Field. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)
David Ross talks with Cubs co-owner Laura Ricketts after the press conference to announce his hiring on Oct. 28, 2019. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)
David Ross hugs his mother, Jackie, after a press conference to announce his hiring as he new Cubs manager on Oct. 28, 2019. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)
David Ross poses for photographs outside of Wrigley Field on Oct. 28, 2019. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)
David Ross gets doused with water from Anthony Rizzo during his interview following their team's 3-1 win over the Cardinals at Wrigley Field on on Sept. 25, 2016. (Nuccio DiNuzzo / Chicago Tribune)
David Ross throws out the first pitch in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series , between the Cubs and the Dodgers, at Wrigley Field, in 2017. (Nuccio DiNuzzo / Chicago Tribune)
David Ross gives two thumbs up to his former Cubs teammates before he took part in a televised ESPN pregame show before a game against the Cardinals at Wrigley Field on June 4, 2017. (Nuccio DiNuzzo / Chicago Tribune)
Former Cubs catcher David Ross visits with manager Joe Maddon before Game 2 of the 2017 National League Division Series. (Brian Cassella / TNS)
Former Cubs catcher David Ross sings the seventh inning stretch with Aaron Boone from the bleachers during ESPN's broadcast of the Cubs-Cardinals game at Wrigley Field on June 4, 2017. (Nuccio DiNuzzo / Chicago Tribune)
Cubs spring instructor David Ross talks to manager Joe Maddon at practice on Feb. 18, 2019 during spring training in Mesa, Ariz. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune / Chicago Tribune)
David Ross skydives with the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team during the opening of the first day of the Chicago Air and Water Show on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. (Alexandra Wimley / Chicago Tribune)
Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo (left) greets former teammate David Ross during batting practice in 2017 before Game 4 of the National League Championship Series. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)
Willson Contreras shakes hands with David Ross before the game against the Cardinals at Wrigley Field on June 4, 2017. (Jon Durr / Getty Images)
David Ross (second from left) talks during the Baseball Tonight pregame show on ESPN before the Cubs-Cardinals game from Wrigley Field on June 4, 2017. (Jon Durr / Getty Images)
David Ross and Kris Bryant hang out behind stage on the first day of the Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Grand Chicago on Jan. 13, 2017. (Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune)
Former Cubs players David Ross, left, and Ted Lilly attend spring training at the Under Armour Performance Center on Feb. 16, 2017. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)
President Barack Obama talks with Cubs catcher David Ross during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Jan. 16, 2017, where the president honored the team. (Carolyn Kaster / AP)
Former Cubs catcher David Ross shows off the 2016 Commissioner's Trophy as players are announced on the first day of the Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Grand Chicago on Friday, Jan. 13, 2017. (Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune)
Former Cubs catcher David Ross shows off the 2016 Commissioner's Trophy as players are announced on the first day of the Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Grand Chicago on Friday, Jan. 13, 2017. (Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune)
David Ross participating in the Shoot the Puck competition at the Blackhawks game against the Stars at the United Center on Nov. 6, 2016. (Nuccio DiNuzzo / Chicago Tribune)
Anthony Rizzo, David Ross, and Dexter Fowler sing "Go Cubs Go" with Bill Murray during SNL's Weekend Update on Nov. 5, 2016. (NBC / NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
David Ross holds the World Series trophy during the Cubs' victory celebration in Grant Park on Nov. 4, 2016. (Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images)
John Lackey, David Ross, Travis Wood and Jon Lester on the bus during the Cubs' World Series parade on Nov. 4, 2016. (Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images)
David Ross is carried off the field by Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward after the Cubs on the World Series on Nov. 2, 2016 at Progressive Field. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)
David Ross celebrates with Jason Heyward after hitting a solo home run during the sixth inning of Game 7 of the World Series on Nov. 2, 2016. (Elsa / Getty Images)
David Ross celebrates after hitting a solo home run during the sixth inning against the Indians in Game 7 of the World Series at Progressive Field on Nov. 2, 2016. (Elsa / Getty Images)
David Ross runs the bases after hitting a solo home run during the sixth inning against the Indians in Game 7 of the World Series on Nov. 2, 2016. (Elsa / Getty Images)
David Ross runs the bases after hitting a solo home run during the sixth inning against the Indians in Game 7 of the World Series on Nov. 2, 2016. (Gregory Shamus / Getty Images)
David Ross hits a solo home run during the sixth inning against the Indians in Game 7 of the World Series on Nov. 2, 2016. (Jason Miller / Getty Images)
David Ross reacts during batting practice prior to Game 6 of the World Series against the Indians at Progressive Field on Nov. 1, 2016. (Elsa / Getty Images)
David Ross waits to take the field Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016, prior to Game 5 of the World Series at Wrigley Field. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)
David Ross comes out to participate in a team workout at Wrigley Field in Chicago on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, in advance of Game 3 of the World Series against the Indians on Friday. (Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune)
David Ross and the Cubs celebrate in the clubhouse after winning Game 6 of the NLCS, at Wrigley Field on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016. (Nuccio DiNuzzo / Chicago Tribune)
David Ross reacts in the dugout after flying out in the fourth inning Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016, in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. (Nuccio DiNuzzo / Chicago Tribune)
David Ross with his wife Hyla, daughters Landri and Harper, and son Cole at Wrigley Field in 2016. (Ross family photo)
2015 family photo of David Ross with his new daughter Harper. (Ross family photo)
David Ross during batting practice before the start of Game 3 of the NLCS against the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on Oct. 18, 2016. (Nuccio DiNuzzo / Chicago Tribune)
David Ross throws sugar-free double bubble gum into the stands to the fans before the start of Game 2 of the NLCS against the Dodger at Wrigley Field on Oct. 16, 2016. (Nuccio DiNuzzo / Chicago Tribune)
David Ross reacts after the Cubs closed out the Giants in the 9th inning to win the NLDS on OCt. 11, 2016. (JOHN G. MABANGLO / EPA)
Catcher David Ross watches his solo home run in the top of the 3rd inning off of Matt Moore Oct. 11, 2016 in Game 4 of their National League Division Series at AT&T Park. (Anthony Souffle / Chicago Tribune)
Catcher David Ross and relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman hug after winning the game in the ninth inning in Game 4 of their National League Division Series at AT&T Park Oct. 11, 2016. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)
Catcher David Ross takes the field to work out Oct. 9, 2016 a day before Game 3 of their National League Division Series at AT&T Park. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)
Catcher David Ross goofs around during warm ups Oct. 8, 2016 before Game 2 of a National League Division Series at Wrigley Field. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)
David Ross reacts after striking out in the fifth inning against the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field on October 7, 2016. (Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images)
Catcher David Ross after the Giants 3rd out in the 5th inning of Game 1 of a National League Division Series at Wrigley Field. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)
David Ross hugs Kris Bryant on the bench before a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh Sept. 27, 2016. (Gene J. Puskar / AP)
David Ross waves to the fans after he was pulled from the game by Cubs manager Joe Maddon during the seventh inning against the Cardinals at Wrigley Field on on Sept. 25, 2016. (Nuccio DiNuzzo / Chicago Tribune)
David Ross with Jake Arrieta near the dugout after he was pulled from the game during the seventh inning against the Cardinals at Wrigley Field on on Sept. 25, 2016. (Nuccio DiNuzzo / Chicago Tribune)
David Rosscelebrates with first base coach Brandon Hyde after his home run against the Cardinals during the fifth inning at Wrigley Field on on Sept. 25, 2016. (Nuccio DiNuzzo / Chicago Tribune)
David Ross gets ready to bat against the St. Cardinals during the second inning at Wrigley Field on Sept. 25, 2016. (Nuccio DiNuzzo / Chicago Tribune)
David Ross waves to the fans as he stands with his teammates and family during an on-field tribute to him prior to the Cubs' game against the Cardinals on Friday, Sept. 23, 2016, at Wrigley Field. (Anthony Souffle / Chicago Tribune)
David Ross stands on the field as he watches a video tribute to him prior to the Cubs' game against the Cardinals on Friday, Sept. 23, 2016, at Wrigley Field. (Anthony Souffle / Chicago Tribune)
David Ross has a laugh after scoring on a double by Jon Lester in the second inning against the Reds on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016. (Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune)
David Ross celebrates the Cubs' National League Central title Friday, Sept. 16, 2016, at Wrigley Field. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)
David Ross celebrates the Cubs' National League Central title at Wrigley Field on Friday, Sept. 16, 2016. (Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune)
David Ross  signs autographs before a game against the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field on Sept. 4, 2016. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)
David Ross meets Ferdinand, a 46-year-old beluga whale at SeaWorld San Diego's Wild Arctic habitat on Aug. 23, 2016. Ross enjoyed the parks popular Beluga Interaction Program, as well as other SeaWorld attractions, while in town for a 3-game series with the Padres. (SeaWorld San Diego)
David Ross throws out a batter during a baseball game against the Brewers on July 24, 2016. (Benny Sieu / AP)
David Ross before the start of the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field  on Aug. 16, 2016. (Nuccio DiNuzzo / Chicago Tribune)
David Ross  crouches at second base after hitting a double in the fifth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field, Aug. 11, 2016. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)
David Ross tags out St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter  at home plate to end the top of the seventh inning at Wrigley Field, Aug. 11, 2016. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)
David Ross  throws pieces of gum to fans behind the dugout before the start of the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field  on Aug. 29, 2016. (Nuccio DiNuzzo / Chicago Tribune)
Cubs catcher David Ross  makes a diving catch of a pop up before turning a double play against the Los Angeles Angels in the first preseason game of spring training at Sloan Park in Mesa, Ariz., on  March 4, 2016. (Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune)
Cubs catcher David Ross and starting pitcher Jason Hammel head to the team bus after a 3-2 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks at Wrigley Field, June 5, 2016. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)
Cubs catcher David Ross points to a teammate after making a diving catch of a foul pop during the first preseason game of spring training at Sloan Park in Mesa, Ariz., on  March 4, 2016. (Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune)
Cubs catcher David Ross  heads for the bus after the game against the Atlanta Braves  at Wrigley Field  on  May 1, 2016. (Nuccio DiNuzzo / Chicago Tribune)
Cubs catcher David Ross and  White Sox manager Robin Ventura pose for a picture before a game at Wrigley Field  on  July 27, 2016. (Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune)
David Ross, center,  during the fourth day of spring training at Sloan Park, Feb. 22, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune)
After getting swept in the 2015 NLCS by the New York Mets David Ross carries his thing from  Wrigley Field  on  Oct. 22, 2015. (Terrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune)
David Ross  rounds the bases after hitting a three-run home run in the fifth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field on  May 13, 2016. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)
Cubs catcher David Ross, who got is 100th career home run, is congratulated by manager Joe Maddon after their team beat the Philadelphia Phillies on May 27, 2016, at Wrigley Field. (Anthony Souffle / Chicago Tribune)
David Ross rounds third  after his solo homer  in the sixth inning vs. Seattle at Wrigley Field on  July 29, 2016. (Phil Velasquez / Chicago Tribune)
Cubs catcher David Ross  reacts to the remarks by teammate  Jon Lester at the country-themed fundraiser at Joe's Bar  at 940 W. Weed St., in Chicago, on  July 6, 2016. (Nuccio DiNuzzo / Chicago Tribune)
David Ross of the Red Sox looks on while catching the game against the Twins on May 15, 2014 at Target Field. (Hannah Foslien / Getty Images)
Red Sox pitcher Koji Uehara and catcher David Ross begin the celebration after the final out in Game 6 of the World Series against the Cardinals at Fenway Park on October 30, 2013. (David Carson / McClatchy-Tribune)
The Tigers' Miguel Cabrera is tagged out at home by the Red Sox's David Ross in the first inning during Game 5 of the American League baseball championship series on Oct. 17, 2013. (Matt Slocum / AP)

Cubs co-owner Laura Ricketts, the only Ricketts sibling to attend David Ross’s introductory news conference Monday, was excited to talk about the team’s new manager.

“Of course we know everything about him,” she said. “We know his character, we know his experience, we know ... excuse me, but I’m going to give him a hug right here.”

Ross, having finished his news conference, was waiting nearby to give his new boss a big ol’ hug, even though she technically already was his boss because Ross had a part-time gig as a special assistant to President Theo Epstein.

No matter.

Ross apologized to Ricketts for not returning her text, having apparently forgotten the first rule of etiquette when beginning a new job is answering your boss’ text. But Ricketts shrugged it off, knowing he’d been busy since Thursday when it was announced that he was Joe Maddon’s replacement.

Ricketts told Ross he was her choice, which almost made him blush. Ross told Ricketts that her brother Pete had told him she was the “most excited” of the Ricketts clan about his hiring. The two had another big ol’ hug, before Ross was off to do some more interviews.

When asked to confirm Pete Ricketts’ assessment of her excitement level, Laura demurred.

“I don’t know if I was the most excited,” she said. “But I was kind of rooting for him all along. Obviously I want them to do their process and (conduct the interviews) and make the best choice for the job. But, yeah, I was really hoping in the end it would turn out to be David.

"I know his character, how he holds people accountable. We’re just really thrilled.”

“Accountable” was the operative word Monday during Ross’ introduction, which did not include any offerings of a shot and/or a beer, as Maddon famously did with the media at the Cubby Bear five years ago. Accountability also was the thematic motif during Epstein’s postmortem after a late-season collapse saw the Cubs miss the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

So at least we know what we’re working with here. Ross obviously was hired to kick some assets, namely the talented core in the Cubs clubhouse that underachieved together, even as their individual 2019 stats look fine on the back of their baseball cards.

The 2019 Cubs were a supergroup that somehow didn’t mesh, like Blind Faith, which recorded only one album together despite the talents of Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood and Ginger Baker. It’ll be Ross’ responsibility to make it mesh in 2020, though we’re still not sure if Epstein will break up the Javier Baez-Kris Bryant-Anthony Rizzo supercore this winter.

Ross handled himself well Monday and was much more serious than the guy we watched as the clubhouse leader in 2015 and ’16. He took pains to shoot down what he called the “misconception” about the “fun-loving, Grandpa Rossy theme out there,” undoing the hard work Rizzo and Bryant did to create the character. It was their “GrandpaRossy_3” Instagram account in 2016 that hammered home the image, which is tough to ignore.

“If you ask any of my friends and ex-players what kind of teammate I was, I didn’t shy away from the tough conversations,” Ross said, pointing to some mound conversations with big ol’ pal Jon Lester that were “rarely friendly.”

Former Cubs starter Jason Hammel seemed to verify that anecdote on Twitter last week, facetiously asking Ross if Willson Contreras “will be managing the days ur babysitting (Lester).”

We can joke about the Ross-Lester relationship now, but with the Cubs in the stretch run this year Lester posted a 6.45 ERA with a .921 OPS against in 10 starts from Aug. 1 to Sept. 18. Ross may have a difficult decision to make if Lester starts similarly in 2020 and is the weak link of the rotation.

Epstein isn’t worried about good ol’ boy Ross being able to manage his ol’ buddies.

“It’s easy to get in a player’s face,” Epstein said. “Anyone can do that. It’s hard to get in their face and then have them come back a half hour later and want to talk about it more and still want to be around you.”

Epstein denied the Ross hiring was a fait accompli, as many — including me — have suggested from the start of the interview process. Ross did not interview with any of the other eight teams searching for a manager this month, so he only had one choice — manage the Cubs or return to his analyst job at ESPN.

“I think it’s the perfect fit for him and the organization at the perfect time,” Ross’ agent, Ryan Gleichowski, said.

Epstein said he learned a lot about Ross’ ability to manage during the interview process, which included a mock opening news conference that Ross apparently nailed. Ross also successfully dodged a reporter staking him out near Starbucks during his first interview with Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer, which probably earned him some points as well.

So why was Ross the “perfect fit” for the job?

Epstein said Ross had “special gifts as a leader, the things you can’t teach." He revealed that players had said during exit interviews that there was not enough team bonding, which obviously was Ross’ forte as a Cubs player.

The perception of Ross simply carrying out Epstein’s directives will be difficult to shake, at least at the outset. Ross said he understands it will be a “collaborative effort” between him, Epstein and Hoyer, but he insisted he would be “making my own decisions (with) continued feedback" from his bosses.

“I’m going to be myself and figure out who I am and my passion on the field,” he said.

WMVP-AM 1000′s John Jurkovic already has dubbed him “the Manchurian manager," so Ross will have to prove he’s not.

“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.”

Epstein added Ross is “absolutely his own man,” and said he was looking for a “partner” and not a “yes man.”

“I’m looking forward to someone with his own ideas,” Epstein said.

Ross received a three-year contract through 2022, which gives him one more year than Epstein to make things right, assuming Epstein goes on to bigger and better things after his 10-year stint with the Cubs is up after 2021, which is mere speculation at this point.

“I never for one second think about my contract or the duration of it,” Epstein said. “We’re always going to act in the best interest of the organization for the long haul. … I think he’s somebody the entire organization felt good about. It wasn’t one person picking him. He was the consensus choice throughout the organization, and hopefully he’s here for a really long time.”

If it works, it should be a good ol’ time for everyone involved.


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