The Chicago Cubs wanted a new direction, at least on the dugout's top step.
Now, we know what direction they're going. As NBC Sports' David Kaplan reported Wednesday, the Cubs will hire David Ross as their next manager, with an official announcement expected soon.
Ross played 15 seasons as a big league catcher. His final two years were spent on the North Side in 2015 and 2016. In the latter campaign, the Cubs busted their infamous 108-year championship drought, and Ross was apparently an inspirational leader.
Key members of the current Cubs roster, including third baseman Kris Bryant and first baseman Anthony Rizzo, have expressed affection for Grandpa Rossy.
"The dude's a legend," Rizzo said in a 2016 Players' Tribune interview.
"I've always looked at Rossy as a coach when he played here," Bryant told reporters in September. "Yeah, it was goofy, it was fun, it was energetic, but when he needed to tell you something, he let you hear it. From the very get-go, I felt like this guy will be a manager someday."
The club's decision to hire Ross wasn't a huge surprise. But it was a gamble on youth over experience.
First, Chicago opted to part ways with Maddon, who managed for all or part of 16 seasons with the Angels, Tampa Bay Rays organization and Cubs while winning two pennants, a World Series and three Manager of the Year awards.
Then, they interviewed but ultimately rejected another seasoned manager in Joe Girardi, who grew up in Illinois and spent seven seasons as a Cubs catcher before eventually guiding the New York Yankees to several postseason appearances and a Commissioner's Trophy.
In the end, Chicago and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein chose the untested 42-year-old Ross.
"Lack of experience is always a factor. It's not a determining factor, but it's a significant factor," Epstein told reporters before Ross' hiring became public. "But, I think there's ways for that to be overcome...beliefs, skills, personal attributes. Those can outweigh lack of experience, but experience certainly helps."
That being said, Houston Astros manager AJ Hinch is a 45-year-old former catcher who had less than two full seasons of experience as a big league skipper when the 'Stros hired him in September 2014. Former outfielder/first baseman and current Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez is 55, but he had never managed at the MLB level before 2018.
At the moment, they're squaring off in the Fall Classic.
More and more, teams are hiring young managers. In today's analytically driven game, the grizzled veteran who goes with his gut is being supplanted by the youthful skipper who motivates in the clubhouse yet is largely in lockstep with the front-office stat gurus when it comes to lineup and playing-time machinations.
Perhaps that's the way of the future. On the other hand, MLB history is littered with accomplished managers—from Connie Mack to Bruce Bochy—who compiled scores of regular-season victories and piles of championship trophies despite (or because of) their age and old-school approach.
After losing the National League Wild Card Game in 2018 and missing the playoffs altogether this season, the Cubs are obviously taking the younger-is-better approach. That's sure to please Bryant, Rizzo and others who are essential to their 2020 success. And it won't be a complete departure from Maddon, who despite his experience exuded a lighthearted vibe and embraced modern metrics.
Now, it's up to Ross to prove he's as good at in-game strategy as he is at making friends and inspiring silly nicknames.
The Cubs wanted a new direction on the dugout's top step. On Wednesday, they got it.
We'll see if new equals better.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.
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