David Ross said all the right things when he addressed the Winter Meetings media Tuesday in San Diego, which was an improvement over his predecessor in and of itself. That’s not the only area in which Ross hopes to promote change, something he made very clear during his introductory press conference. “Accountability” was the word of the day that first time around, to the point that each repetition caused listeners’ eyes to roll back just a little further in their sockets.
It appears that some of his more egregiously obvious talking points have been sanded smooth by the last few weeks of managerial boot camp, though it could just be a matter of Ross feeling more comfortable in his position. He was hired in large part because he was the primary enforcer of clubhouse culture during his time as a player, and that’s exactly what he is focused on bringing back ($) in his next tour with the team.
From the sound of it, he’s okay with pissing some guys off if that’s what it takes.
“When you work together and communicate, you either talk about good things or they ask, ‘Why is Rossy having us do this extra drill?’ Ross said. “So you complain together. As long as you’re doing it together, I think that creates relationships. You start talking about off-the-field stuff, winning stuff, being a part of certain moments in the season. I just think communication is how we develop those relationships.”
The idea of creating or improving relationships between players is something Joe Maddon hinted at late in his final season. Many scoffed when Maddon placed some of the blame for the Cubs’ disappointing performance on players no going out and partying more often, but Ross sure seems to think there’s some validity to it. Hey, maybe that’s why he wanted Mike Napoli on his staff.
“If you put your head down, put your headphones on or you’re staring at your phone in the locker room because your routine is done that day, then you’re not affecting the group,” Ross reasoned. “We have a lot of great human beings. These dudes need to affect each other. I know a lot of them in there and how smart they are, how hard they work and what they care about. I want that to affect everybody. I want that to be contagious.”
Being friends off the field may help with some of the little intangibles that really make a team, well, a team, but it’s solid play that will have the greatest impact on wins and losses. To that end, Ross noted a need to establish more effective routines and less individual work. If that sounds familiar, it’s probably because you recall former bench coach Mark Loretta condemning a lack of structure and planning following his October interview for the manager gig.
“There’ll be a little bit more structure,” Ross admitted. “I want some guys working together. Not guys on their own plan. I want to do things together and recreate that bond.”
As simple as that seems, it has become apparent that Maddon’s permissiveness had a deleterious effect on a team that may have needed a firmer hand. While there was certainly more to it than that, the results of a laissez faire leadership style speak pretty loudly. Regardless of how much those on the outside think the Cubs need it, or even how much the players themselves yearn for it, change isn’t always easy. Ross knows that and actually welcomes the results.
“I hope there’s a little bit of shock for the players,” the rookie manager admitted. “I’m kind of relying on that. I want to be different. As much as Joe brought to the table — and I respect all that he’s done. I’ll keep a lot of the music on, I like the vibe that he created. I think I’ll mix up some things early on.”
Which players he’ll be shocking is the big question at this point, since the Cubs are still looking to fill gaps in the roster while also contemplating trades involving key players. If they indeed move either Kris Bryant or Willson Contreras, any shakeup Ross tries to bring will be mild in comparison. Whether and how that can return the Cubs to the “winning ways” of a few years ago remains to be seen, but Ross was adamant that he expects to win big right out of the gate.
Now it’s up to the front office to make the right moves, since no amount of accountability or want-to is going to mean a damn thing if the roster isn’t built to succeed.