MILWAUKEE (AP) — Craig Counsell played 15 years in the majors, scouted and has worked with minor league players and coaches. But he never coached or managed in the minors or majors before taking over as Milwaukee’s manager for Brewers general manager Doug Melvin.
Counsell is one of the latest additions to a recent crop of big league skippers who are showing that prior managerial experience isn’t necessarily required.
“I’ve always said baseball, we as an industry, we don’t do a great job of necessarily grooming guys,” Melvin said. “It doesn’t happen like it should sometimes.”
The typical paths to becoming a big league skipper used to wind through minor league outposts while climbing organizational ladders. Others might bide time as trusted coaches on major league staffs.
Counsell, a 44-year-old baseball lifer, earned the Brewers job with his penchant for preparation and organizational know-how.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny and White Sox skipper Robin Ventura took similar paths back to the dugout. Both are in their fourth seasons.
“These were all players that commanded respect as teammates,” Melvin said this week. “I think when you ask around, most players will say they were great teammates.”
Walt Weiss, in his third year with Colorado, and Brad Ausmus, in his second season with Detroit, also got their jobs without having previously managed or coached in the majors or minors.
And the Miami Marlins turned to general manager Dan Jennings — who only briefly briefly coached high school in Mobile, Alabama, in the 1980s — to manage the club after firing Mike Redmond on Sunday. Jennings never played in the majors, but has been with the Marlins on the personnel side since 2002 and is in his second season as general manager.
They’ve all been involved with baseball most of their lives, with varying degrees of experience in front offices.
Former players with managerial aspirations may not be eager to manage in the minors first or become a coach because they’ve made a lot of money as a player, Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said.
“You have to be open-minded to evolving changes,” said Dombrowski, who hired Ausmus to replace Jim Leyland in 2014.
Ausmus was previously a special assistant for three seasons for the San Diego Padres. A 22-year veteran, Leyland had already managed 14 years with three different teams — mostly with the Pirates — by the time he had arrived in Detroit in 2006.
Counsell’s predecessor, Ron Roenicke, had several managerial and coaching stops on his resume. He spent 10 years as a coach for Mike Scioscia with the Los Angeles Angels before getting the Brewers job in 2011.
It’s the same year that Counsell ended his 15-year playing career, finishing up in Milwaukee.
Roenicke was fired on May 3 following the team’s 7-18 start. In came Counsell, a special assistant to Melvin since 2012.
His organizational knowledge could come in handy. The last-place Brewers could start turning over their veteran-laden roster if they can’t make a dramatic push to get back into the competitive NL Central race.
Melvin said Counsell’s recent playing experience helps him relate with today’s players. Counsell has played with seven players on the Brewers roster.
“I don’t know if it helps in managing the game,” Counsell said, “but it helps teaching players.”
The clean-shaven, youthful-looking Counsell looks fit in uniform, as if he could still handle a hard smash at short.
“It’s kind of hard to see him as a skipper because he still looks like he can play,” said 27-year-old left fielder Khris Davis, who is in his second full season in the majors. “Just a new breath of fresh air around here has been working.”
The Brewers are 6-7 under Counsell, developing a penchant for rallying in late innings.
“He brings an intellectual character profile to this position, too, which helps him interact with today’s players and activity away from the park,” Melvin said. “Players can relate to his stories because he’s played recently.”
The model of success for this group of managers is Matheny, whose teams are averaging nearly 92 wins a season since he took over the Cardinals in 2012. St. Louis hasn’t missed a beat since Tony La Russa left, advancing to the NLCS for three straight seasons.
Dombrowski typically preferred to hire a skipper with managerial experience, so hiring Ausmus was a bit of a shift. He said Matheny’s success wasn’t the whole reason he hired Ausmus, though it did catch his attention.
Like rookie players, younger managers may improve with experience.
“You have to be willing to take some of the growing pains with a young manager,” Dombrowski said. “There’s still going to be a learning curve.”
AP Baseball Writer Noah Trister in Detroit and AP sports writer Steven Wine in Miami contributed to this report.
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