Brewers name Counsell new manager, give hometown star three-year deal
MILWAUKEE — Despite his travels throughout a 16-year major-league career that included two World Series rings, Craig Counsell’s roots have remained in Milwaukee.
He grew up following his father around the clubhouse of Milwaukee County Stadium and finished his major-league career playing for his hometown team at Miller Park.
Now the pride of Whitefish Bay, Wis., is the manager of the Milwaukee Brewers.
After firing Ron Roenicke late Sunday night, the Brewers announced Counsell as the 19th manager in franchise history at a Monday morning press conference at Miller Park.
Counsell, 44, signed to a three-year contract through the 2017 season.
"I’ve watched Brewers games for 35 years," Counsell said. "I’m a Milwaukee Brewer. I’ve always felt that way. Baseball in this city is important to me. It’s part of me. I feel a responsibility for it. I always have. And I’m proud to have that responsibility.
"It’s a great honor to move forward and try to give our fans what they deserve. We’re going to try to win games. That’s my job, is to win games. And that’s what I’m going to try to do. Every single day I wake up, we’re going to try to figure out a way to win baseball games."
Counsell’s ties to the Brewers organization began as a young kid, as his father, John, worked as the team’s director of the speaker’s bureau from 1979-85 and as the director of community relations from 1986-87.
After starring at Whitefish Bay (Wis.) High School, Counsell played collegiately at the University of Notre Dame. He was drafted in the 11th round of the 1992 first-year player draft by the Colorado Rockies and made his big-league debut in 1995.
Counsell played 16 years in the big leagues as a versatile infielder for the Rockies, Marlins, Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Brewers, winning World Series rings with Florida in 1997 and Arizona in 2001.
Following his retirement in 2011, Counsell joined Milwaukee’s front office as a special assistant to general manager Doug Melvin in January of 2012.
Now he continues the trend of former players jumping into the manager’s chair without coaching experience at any level.
"It’s a place where I feel like I’ve prepared myself to be," Counsell said. "Surreal was playing. This is probably more where I thought I would end up, in a position of leadership like this. It’s an honor and it’s humbling but I feel like this is what I was meant to do. I think I’ll be better at this than I was at playing."
Robin Ventura, A.J. Hinch, Walt Weiss and Mike Matheny are current skippers who became managers without any prior professional coaching experience. The trend has also hit the NBA, where Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd has found success making the immediate transition from playing to coaching.
"He’s not far from being in the clubhouse with the players wearing that uniform," Melvin said. "He knows today’s players more than somebody from the outside who doesn’t know our organization or maybe somebody from the outside that maybe hasn’t managed in a few years.
"There are too many things familiar with him here. He knows our minor-league system. He knows our coaches in the minor leagues. He knows how we operate. He has been involved in the scouting aspect. He has been in all those meetings, so he has that familiarity."
Counsell played for 11 managers during his playing career, but he credited former skipper Jim Leyland and current Athletics manager Bob Melvin as being the most influential to him.
It was Bob Melvin in Arizona that allowed Counsell the access required to understand what goes into being a big-league manager.
"I don’t believe in a style of managing," Counsell said. "I believe we take rosters and we try to get the best out of our players. You try to get your players to perform to the best of their abilities based on what their skills are. I’m going to try to get these guys playing to their capabilities. If we can do that, we’ll be good. That’s my number one goal.
"I will have expectations of them. They will know them. They will be important to me. We’ll build those as we go. Because baseball is so day-to-day, those relationships in that respect and that trust, you have to earn it in decisions that you make every day. You have to earn it on how you behave every day. That’s what we will do."
The Brewers currently are the worst team in baseball at 7-18, a puzzling start for a team that had intentions of contending for a postseason berth coming out of spring training.
Melvin’s decision to fire Roenicke was based on Milwaukee’s struggles over the past 100 games, as the Brewers have lost 40 of their last 56 games and have won consecutive games just three times since Sept. 1 of last season.
Changing managers 25 games into the season is not a signal the Brewers are definitely beginning a rebuilding process, as that decision will be made at a later date.
"We need to figure out a way to win games," Counsell said. "Contending? We can speculate on scenarios but let’s win games and find out. Let’s get them playing to their capabilities and find out. Are we a contending team? Right now, we’re not. We’re not. But we have to look at this.
"I’m looking at this as an opportunity for the players. We don’t get to start over. Our record is our record. We do have an opportunity. There is a mark right here and we can start being the team we want to be from this point forward."
Counsell is in the unique position where he will be managing players he once was teammates with. Eight players on Milwaukee’s current roster — Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez, Jonathan Lucroy, Logan Schafer, Martin Maldonado, Mike Fiers, Francisco Rodriguez and Jeremy Jeffress — played with Counsell at some point during his six years with the Brewers.
"I view it as a positive," Counsell said. "There’s a relationship already there. We have to form relationships with everybody, so I view it as a positive. They know where I come from. They know where I sit on lots of things, so to me, it’s a positive. To some degree, I’ve been managing them for a while, both as a player and now in this [front office] role. Those guys, for me, are easier, quite honestly."
Counsell called the decision to jump into a managing "difficult" because he and his wife, Michelle, have four young kids — two girls (Finley and Rowan) and two boys (Brady and Jack) — at home. But the opportunity to manage the team he grew up supporting was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
"The logo means something to me," Counsell said. "My dad worked here. I was at County Stadium since I was 10. It means something to me. It’s a part of me. I think that just gets you more excited about it. It makes you work harder for it and at it because there is something more.
"I’m not looking at this as a job, this isn’t a second career. This is just my passion of what I want to do."
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