Counsell to retire, join Brewers' front office
MILWAUKEE -- After a 16-year career that included two World Series championships and two playoff appearances with his hometown Brewers, infielder Craig Counsell on Tuesday said goodbye to his playing career.
But he said hello to a new career: He is joining the Brewers front office as a special assistant to general manager Doug Melvin.
It was fitting, then, that Counsell announced his retirement at Miller Park, where he became a fan favorite the past five seasons because of his scrappy approach to the game and his local ties.
While with the Brewers, the 41-year-old hit .241 with 77 doubles, 13 home runs and 130 RBI.
Despite hitting a career-low .178 in 2011 and narrowly missing an MLB record for consecutive at-bats without a hit, Counsell's clubhouse role as a veteran leader made him a valuable member of a Brewers squad that set a franchise record with 96 victories and won its first division title in 29 years.
The decision to retire came easily for Counsell, who said he received a couple of offers for minor league deals with invitations to spring training.
"It's easy when you've got more softball teams calling you than baseball teams," Counsell said.
It's also easy when you have a job to go to — specifically, working with Melvin.
"It's going to be a very important role," Melvin said. "He's going to roll up his sleeves and get to work right away.
"He's going to come to the front office and really be welcomed by everybody. I'm looking forward to being able to pick Craig's mind. He brings a perspective of a player, the clubhouse to the front office. If he works in the front office as hard as he did as a player . . we're going to have an All-Star member in the front office helping us out."
Counsell will handle a variety of duties in his new position, including visiting the team's baseball academy in the Dominican Republic, learning the ins and outs of the baseball operations department, working with minor league affiliates and even traveling with the team on the road.
"We'll have him go to the cities we don't want to go to," Melvin joked.
In joining the front office, Counsell is looking forward to the opportunity to learn a different side of the game. He anticipates being in uniform for a portion of spring training and assisting manager Ron Roenicke with various on-field duties.
But the majority of Counsell's time will be spent with Melvin, assistant GM Gord Ash and the rest of the baseball operations people as he learns the ins and outs of front-office work.
"I've got a lot to learn," Counsell said. "That's what I want to do. I really want to learn."
He's also happy to be able to stay in Milwaukee, where he spent much of his childhood. Counsell, who attended Whitefish Bay High School, still can remember the days his father worked with the Brewers, in cramped quarters at County Stadium, just down the hall from then-owner Bug Selig, now baseball's commissioner.
The opportunity to stay home was a deciding factor for Counsell, who turned down an offer to join Dale Sveum's staff with the Chicago Cubs earlier this winter.
"There is a sense of loyalty for me here," Counsell said. "It allows me to be a part of this organization. It allows me to stay in the city that's home to my family. Those things are all a big part . . . this is a great opportunity and a great challenge for me."
Originally selected by Colorado in the 11th round of the 1992 amateur draft, Counsell made his debut on Sept. 17, 1995, and went hitless in his lone at-bat — pinch-hitting for Larry Walker in the seventh inning of the Rockies' 17-0 loss to Florida.
He remained in the minor leagues until July 26, 1997, when he was a pinch-runner in the Rockies' 6-3 win over the Cubs. The next day, Colorado dealt Counsell to Florida for right-hander Mark Hutton.
Counsell gained fame with the Marlins that season, hitting .299 in 51 games and scoring the game-winning run in the Marlins' World Series-clinching, Game 7 victory over Cleveland.
Florida traded Counsell to the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 15, 1999, and after being released the next offseason, he signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Counsell played the next four seasons in Arizona and helped the Diamondbacks get to the 2001 World Series and a seven-game triumph against the New York Yankees. He was on base when the winning run scored.
His two World Series championships stand out as the pinnacles of his career.
"You play in Game 7s of World Series . . . tell me what's above that?" Counsell said. "You win both games, I don't know what's next. For me, there's nothing that's next in baseball."
Counsell was shipped to Milwaukee on Dec. 1, 2003, as part of a blockbuster deal that sent five players to the Brewers for first baseman Richie Sexson, pitcher Shane Nance and minor leaguer Noochie Varner.
He hit .241 for the Brewers in 2004 with 19 doubles as the team's starting shortstop. He signed with the Diamondbacks for the 2004 season, playing two more seasons in Arizona before returning to Milwaukee.