Bernstein: Cubs Use 'Tighter Ship' For Ross Rationale

Theo Epstein emphasized David Ross won't be a proxy for the front office.

Dan Bernstein
October 29, 2019 - 2:14 pm

(670 The Score) This is exactly what it looks like and what we long thought it would be, no matter the noise around the hiring of David Ross to follow Joe Maddon as Cubs manager.

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His introductory press conference Monday revealed two important points of communication from the organization: first that their home-cultivated and handpicked choice for the position is something other and more serious than the lovable 2016 mascot who danced in sequins and sold books and boxes of cereal and more significantly that he's by no means just a proxy for executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer.

"If you're a front office and you want a puppet, you don't hire David Ross," Epstein told reporters.

It came off like a neatly prepared sound bite, expertly delivered to counteract a building narrative that the Cubs see as unflattering. Epstein followed it up with a ready anecdote that illustrated Ross's fierce independent streak when it comes to how he views a baseball game, reinforcing his apparent autonomy.​ It's some unnecessary defensiveness from the Cubs, perhaps spurred by the loaded and negative word "puppet" as much as anything else.

As we've noted in this space before, a streamlined relationship between the two levels is the preferable model for the game today, with the comprehensive and deliberate work of the baseball operations side requiring a manager whose plans are appropriately synchronized to make it all function. That's what the Cubs expect to have to a much greater extent now, make no mistake.  

But in explaining why the move was made, they're leaning much more on the soft stuff, the unquantifiable aspects of baseball management that move past spin rates and launch angles, spray charts and pitch tunnels.

"With Joe, he runs a loose ship, is the best way I'd say it," general manager Jed Hoyer said on the McNeil & Parkins Show on 670 The Score on Monday. "I'd really hope our next manager in David Ross, he wants our guys to do more group work, wants our guys to sort of get together more and do more stuff that can kind of create some camaraderie, create some bonds. It felt like the last few years, it was a lot of guys doing their own individual routines and no one sort of getting everyone together and doing it together."

And the Cubs do believe that such things matter, even if they can't be measured. But it's also just a fact that the actual baseball decisions are much more of an organizational responsibility rather that just being the bailiwick of a tobacco-chomping old man in strained double-knit pants, set in his ways and marking his territory in the clubhouse. It's a bit odd that the Cubs aren't embracing this more fully, but it's possible they don't want the managerial position perceived as diminished in importance either publicly or privately, despite the clear and ongoing evolution of the role in MLB.

So they give us the image of the team stretching together and hitting together, weaving the connective threads of esprit de corps that sound all the right notes about what we want to think about sports, even if we have no actual evidence that any of that makes a team of baseball players more likely to win a championship.

Epstein and Hoyer are uncomfortable with being seen at all as some power-hungry controllers of marionette strings, hiring an old friend to merely do their bidding in uniform. And it would be completely unfair to portray them as such, when they're merely trying to create a more efficient and dynamic operation up and down the ladder in a manner that mirrors the accepted best practices of the industry.

It may be a tighter ship indeed, but Epstein ultimately responsible for the helm is as it should be.

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s Bernstein & McKnight Show in midday. You can follow him on Twitter @Dan_Bernstein.