Column: Some unsolicited advice for Craig Counsell on handling his first year as Chicago Cubs manager

Chicago Cubs manager Craig Counsell wanted to take things slowly after a whirlwind chain of events since his initial Nov. 1 meeting with President Jed Hoyer.

You really can’t blame him. There’s a lot to learn about the Cubs organization, from the farm system to the current roster to the offseason game plan. He’s already begun talking to returning players, learning the names and faces of front office employees and media relations personnel, and probably looking for a place to live during the season.

Fortunately for Counsell, he already knows much of the local media thanks to the Cubs-Brewers rivalry and its many controversies, including but not limited to rainouts with no rain and roof closings in the middle of an inning.

He also has long-standing relationships with Marquee Sports Network play-by-play man Boog Sciambi and WSCR-AM 670 analyst Ron Coomer, lessening the pain of leaving old pal Bob Uecker, the forever voice of the Brewers.

While the transition from Wisconsinite to Chicagoan may take some time — Counsell wouldn’t go along with one reporter’s facetious request to say “Go Bears” — he’ll eventually learn the lingo and customs. Before you know it, Counsell will be standing in line at The Wieners Circle getting insulted by “Poochie.”

To help speed up the learning process in his first year as Cubs manager, we offer Counsell some unsolicited advice on how to make his day-to-day life go smoothly in 2024:

Move into the neighborhood

The mere sight of Hoyer’s mansion in Winnetka — where the two had their initial meeting — and the $40 million contract, could convince Counsell to become North Shore Man. But does he really understand Chicago traffic and its stranglehold on our blood pressure readings? A better idea would be to move close to Wrigley Field, where he can get to his office before his coffee is cold and start thinking about how to win that day.

Former President Theo Epstein used to walk to the ballpark from his nearby home, going down side streets with a Pearl Jam cap pulled down over his eyebrows. “I know how to live in the shadows,” Epstein said.

Walking to work is a nice way to make a living.

Limit office access

It’s nearly impossible for a modern-day manager to get any “me time” before games because of the steady stream of people providing him with information or trying to get information from him, particularly before home games.

From game-planning and learning bullpen availability and players’ health issues, to schmoozing with broadcast media and hearing media relations people tell you what the print media is about to ask in the upcoming news conference, it can be a long slog. (I’m old enough to remember managers taking pregame naps in their offices, which seems nostalgic now.)

With all the reams of data the Cubs collect, you’d think someone could streamline the process, eliminate a few layers and save the manager a half hour or more of office time for himself. Personally, I’d also hire a bouncer to kick out loitering media members from the media rights holders, Marquee and The Score, other than the pregame show with Coomer the manager is contracted to do.

The bouncer can inform all stragglers that Counsell is busy trying to win a baseball game.

Come to think of it, maybe Coomer can be the bouncer.

No soliloquies

A baseball news conference can be conducted in under 10 minutes if the manager and media are on the same page. The manager needs to deliver information in a timely manner without meandering, while the media assemblage needs to limit the number of questions to relevant topics. It’s a win-win for both sides.

David Ross was a media favorite but tended to give long answers to questions he liked, and short ones to those he didn’t, particularly after Cubs losses. That’s fine, but not every question deserves a soliloquy, and many others don’t deserve to be dodged.

Counsell has a reputation for having a moderate temperament, getting along with everyone and giving direct answers to tough questions. He’s already shown that he’s not image-conscious, revealing he joked to general manager Carter Hawkins: “I don’t know much about the Cubs.”

Doing pregame news conferences in the dugout also might help, even though the Cubs prefer using the interview room to cater to TV. That’s Cub.

Meet the employees

The Cubs were rated No. 1 in baseball in guest experience in MLB’s Voice of the Consumer survey, a testament to the organization’s focus on making Wrigley a fun place to attend a game, and the friendliness of the employees who work there on a daily basis.

The fact the Cubs were ranked at the top by fans in a season that ended badly on the field makes the showing even more impressive. There are too many employees to learn all their names, but it wouldn’t hurt to have Counsell talk at a pregame meeting of ushers, security, concession workers and the grounds crew to let them know they’re all part of the same team with the same basic goal — to satisfy their fans.

Embrace day baseball

Despite complaints over the years by business operations president Crane Kenney and former manager Joe Maddon that the Cubs are forced to play more day games than their peers, day baseball games on weekdays at Wrigley remain one of the few things that separate the franchise from the other 29 teams. It’s usually the only game being played on a Friday afternoon, meaning the Cubs have the baseball spotlight to themselves.

Counsell, an outdoors kind of guy who spends winters in his Wisconsin hometown, is finally getting outside again after spending the last nine years managing under a retractable dome in Milwaukee.

He should feel energized just thinking about experiencing his first rain delay at Wrigley as Cubs manager.


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