It’s official: David Ross is the Cubs’ new manager. While he is, admittedly, not as hot as Brad Ausmus, he is David Ross, and I am a devoted Cubs fan. In other words, I’m thrilled.
For those not familiar: David Ross joined the Cubs in 2015 while nearing the end of a long career in baseball. Though Ross was a talented catcher and decent hitter, acquiring him was less about him and more about his BFF Jon Lester who is, to put it simply, a fantastic pitcher. Basically, Lester has a few idiosyncracies, one of which is that he likes to pitch to the same catcher and, at the time, that catcher was David Ross. They were a package deal, which is both very cute and very unusual. That being said, there was one specific benefit that Ross brought to the table, and that was veteran status. In 2015, the Cubs roster was made up of a bunch of very talented and very young pups, and what they needed was an older, more experienced guiding hand that belonged to someone who wasn’t technically in a position of authority over them. An older brother figure, if you will. Or, to be more accurate, a grandpa.
Enter David Ross.
To say that the plan to install Ross on the team as a mentor succeeded would be an understatement. He was lovingly called “Grandpa Rossy” by both the players and fans, a reference to the fact that, in baseball years, he was approximately 92 years old (in real world years, he was 38 and 39 during the 2015 and 2016 seasons, respectively). All joking aside, however, no one could deny the influence he had on the younger players, especially on unofficial team captain and beloved first baseman Anthony Rizzo. At the 2016 World Series parade in Chicago, Rizzo spoke about Ross through tears, stating, “He’s taught me a lot: in life, on the field, off the field, how to be a better person…I’m forever grateful for him.”
While Ross was beloved going into the World Series, he is also one of its many heroes. Lester had started Games 1 and 5 of the World Series, and since Ross only caught for Lester, most assumed that his baseball career was officially over after those games.
Of course, one of the joys of baseball is the unexpected.
Much about Game 7 of the 2016 World Series wasn’t a joy, to be fair. For one, starter Kyle Hendricks was pulled too early. This led to Jon Lester being brought in as a relief pitcher. This would be a bizarre choice for any other team in baseball, but this was the Chicago Cubs, who hadn’t won a World Series since 1908, and for them it was just another day at the ballpark. Lester coming in meant that Ross came in. It also meant that, in the sixth inning, Ross was able to hit a home run in his final MLB career at-bat, becoming the oldest player to hit a home run in a World Series Game 7 (again, 92 years old in baseball years). Cubs fans love a good story, and a beloved catcher hitting a home run in Game 7 of the first World Series the Cubs had won in 108 years in his final career at-bat? When he was never supposed to be in the game to begin with? You can’t write a better story than that.
This brings us to the final era of Ross’ career, the one that is most important in considering how his experience will make him a good leader for the Cubs: his participation on season 24 of Dancing with the Stars in 2017. Of course, being David Ross, he made history while doing so: he was the first professional baseball player to compete on the show. I should note here that I have never watched a full episode of Dancing with the Stars but, fortunately, the Wrigley Field crew was more than happy to ensure that I did not have to. They regularly played his segments on the video board during night game rain delays. Cubs fans, in other words, were thrilled. Dancing with the Stars fans were less thrilled. Ross, apparently, was not a very good dancer, but Cubs fans, forever dedicated to being as obnoxious as possible, continued to vote for him en masse, and he ended up coming in second place. Other celebrities, who both performed better and, ostensibly, never danced in bedazzled baseball uniforms (their loss), fell to David Ross. Dancing with the Stars fans were peeved. To this I can only say two things. One, if you want to see good dancing rewarded, you might be better off watching a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie over Dancing with the Stars. Secondly, Ross’ stint on the show was crucial preparation for the role he is taking on now: the skipper of a declining Chicago Cubs team.
The number one worry a lot of David Ross naysayers bring up is whether, having been teammates and friends with a lot of the current roster, he will be able to exert any authority over them. At the press conference officially announcing his appointment, he was quick to shoot this concern down. “I know there’s a big, fun-loving Grandpa Rossy ‘theme’ out there,” Ross began, “but if you ask any of my friends or ex-players, you know, what kind of teammate I was, I didn’t shy away from the tough conversations…To the core, I’m a guy that has a lot of expectations when I come into work.” Ross went on to emphasize his professionalism and how he expects professionalism from those he works with and that, overall, the Grandpa Rossy persona was exaggerated. Of course, many people who had paid attention to Ross’ career prior to his time with the Cubs had pointed this out already. Before the creation and ascension of Grandpa Rossy, Ross was known as a bit of a hard ass who would get on his teammates about lackluster performances. While he and Lester are legitimately close, many of their mound meetings over the years were far from friendly. In other words, instead of being too friendly as a manger, he might actually be mean! This is good. If there’s anything this Cubs team needs, it’s for someone to be mean to them. Someone to say, “Good God, you absolute bellend, what did you do that for?” Ross’s criticism, admittedly, might be a little more constructive than that, but the idea is the same.
So, what is the outlook for Ross? Honestly, who knows? It depends on a lot: who his bench coach will be, whether the NL Central Division continues to be the most unimpressive and mediocre division in baseball, which players he enters the 2020 season with. But, as I’ve stated many times before in regard to a multitude of things, the Cubs have nothing to lose. At this point, it’s clear that the Cubs are heading towards a rebuild, a process that is always excessively long and painful for a team as heavily cursed as the Chicago Cubs. They might as well have a friend to hold their hands along the way.