Ryne Sandberg Not First Manager Fired as Brewers Replace Roenicke With Counsell
Craig Counsell enjoyed a solid but unspectacular major league career, hitting .255 over 16 seasons. He is confident he will have more success as a manager.
"It's an honor, and it's humbling, but I feel like this is what I was meant to do," Counsell said at a news conference Monday after his hiring to replace Ron Roenicke as manager of the Milwaukee Brewers. "I think I'll be better at this than I was at playing."
Counsell, a 44-year-old Milwaukee native, spent the final five seasons of his career with the Brewers, retiring after the 2011 season.
"I'm not looking at this as a job. This is my passion and what I want to do," Counsell said. "These opportunities are rare. This opportunity is the one, and it's the rarest."
A major league-worst 7-18, the Brewers lost 40 of their final 56 games under Roenicke, who was fired Sunday night despite a contract running through 2016. The skid included a late-season collapse last year, after they led the NL Central for nearly five months, and a 2-13 start this season.
Counsell has no previous managing or coaching experience. He was given a contract through the 2017 season.
"He played the game with a chip on his shoulder and he played the game to win," general manager Doug Melvin said. "He has a real edge for preparation."
A two-time World Series champion, Counsell scored the winning run for Florida in the 11th inning of Game 7 of the 1997 World Series and was MVP of the 2001 NL Championship Series for Arizona.
Milwaukee is 38-65 since last July 1. The Brewers have won consecutive games on just three occasions since Sept. 1.
"You think you could win two games in a row by mistake, where the other team's playing bad," Melvin said. "That's not acceptable, and it's hard to understand why."
Counsell became a special assistant to Melvin in 2012 and also was a part-time broadcaster for Milwaukee last season. Counsell was among the candidates last offseason to succeed Joe Maddon as Tampa Bay's manager.
"Are we a contending team right now? We're not," Counsell said. "We can't start over. Our record is our record. ... We can start being the team that we want to be."
Counsell knows something about struggling, going hitless in 45 consecutive at-bats in 2011.
His father, John Counsell, was a former minor league outfielder and worked for the Brewers from 1979-87, running the speakers' bureau and then becoming community relations director. Craig Counsell reminisced about attending Brewers games as a youngster with his family at County Stadium.
"Baseball in this city is important to me. It's part of me. I feel a responsibility for it. I always have," Counsell said.
He credited two of his managers, Jim Leyland in Florida and Bob Melvin in Arizona, for leaving a lasting influence.
"Jim Leyland was hard on you, but fair," Counsell said. "And Bob Melvin kind of let me into the back room and let me understand what managing was about, and the decisions that he was making on a daily basis with the team while I was playing for him. I got my first real understanding of what being a manager was from him."
Milwaukee started 20-7 last year and spent 150 of the regular season's 183 days alone in first or tied for the NL Central lead, including every day from April 5 through Aug. 31. The Brewers skidded to a 9-22 finish and wound up third in the division, eight games back of St. Louis and two behind Pittsburgh.
Roenicke became the first manager fired 25 games or fewer into a season since 2002, according to STATS. Detroit's Phil Garner (six games), Milwaukee's Davey Lopes (15), Colorado's Buddy Bell (22) and Kansas City's Tony Muser (23) were all let go quickly that year.
On March 19, Milwaukee exercised its 2016 option on Roenicke. But Melvin met with team owner Mark Attanasio on the off day last Thursday and discussed a possible change.
"It didn't feel good," Melvin said. "Slept on it for a day or so, and then just decided to make the change."
In 2011, in his first season as a major league manager, Roenicke led the Brewers to a 96-66 record - the best in team history - and the NL Central title. The Brewers beat Arizona in the first round and lost to St. Louis in the league championship series.
When asked if Roenicke had been too soft on his players, Counsell said: "I think there's a balance there. I've said this for years, I said this as a player: We all want to be led. To some extent, we all want to be told what to do. In a team atmosphere, that's what happens. We have to sacrifice a little bit of ourselves, give a little bit of ourselves, to take the team in the right direction."
Counsell said he spoke with Roenicke on Sunday night.
"I consider Ron to be a friend," Counsell said. "He was professional and wished me well."
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