Is Craig Counsell the Best Manager in Baseball?

MILWAUKEE — The final time the Milwaukee Brewers reached a World Series, Craig Counsell was 12. His father labored for the workforce, so Counsell would typically tag alongside, together with throughout that 1982 playoff run.

Usually, Counsell sat in the stands at County Stadium, the Brewers’ former house, to look at his favourite workforce and favourite participant, the Hall of Famer Robin Yount. But when stress constructed throughout a recreation, Counsell would stroll to a particular place that had confirmed profitable in his thoughts: the spot the place he watched Cecil Cooper drive in the go-ahead runs to win the American League pennant for Milwaukee.

“My lucky spot was at the end of the stadium,” Counsell mentioned not too long ago, pointing to the place it could be at American Family Field, the workforce’s house since 2001. “They had a ramp that sat down the right field line. It was a walkway to get to the upper deck and I would watch the game from my spot. You got to find a lucky spot.”

His vantage level is way completely different nowadays. After taking part in 16 seasons in the majors, Counsell — a Milwaukeean by way of and thru — has been watching his favourite workforce from the dugout since 2015. All the whereas, he has established himself as one baseball’s greatest managers. This season, he has guided the Brewers to a number of milestones the workforce had not reached since 1982, when Counsell was there to look at them fall to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 7 of the World Series.

Through Tuesday, the Brewers, who play in the smallest market in Major League Baseball, had been on tempo to win a franchise file 99 video games. They sat 13 and a half video games forward of the St. Louis Cardinals for first place in the National League Central, holding the largest division lead in M.L.B. With a file of 89-56, the Brewers had been 33 video games over .500 — topping the franchise’s high-water mark from 1982. And ought to the Brewers attain the playoffs as anticipated, they are going to have executed so in 4 consecutive seasons, extending a franchise file for a membership that performed its first season in 1969.

With a 14-game lead in the National League Central, Craig Counsell and the Milwaukee Brewers have spent lots of time celebrating this season.Credit…Benny Sieu/USA Today Sports, through Reuters

A standard thread on a workforce that has seen modifications to its entrance workplace and roster: Counsell.

“The players have to play the game, but it starts from the top down and players feed off the manager,” mentioned Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich, who received the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award in 2018.

“I don’t think he gets enough credit,” Yelich continued later. “I really don’t. It’s almost a crime that he hasn’t won Manager of the Year the last few years. He’s definitely deserved it and he’s a huge reason for all of our success here.”

Counsell, 51, took over the Brewers after Milwaukee received off to a 7-18 begin beneath Ron Roenicke in 2015. Before that, his teaching was restricted to youth leagues together with his kids. But his experiences as a participant ready him to information a workforce, to narrate to its gamers and to earn their respect.

He went from a walk-on at Notre Dame to changing into the workforce’s captain. An 11th spherical draft decide, he was a slender infielder recognized extra for his glove (and quirky batting stance) than his bat. In 1997, when he was 26, he overcame a historical past of accidents in the minors to earn a daily spot in the majors. He was designated for task, launched and traded throughout his profession. He received World Series rings with the Florida Marlins in 1997 (scoring the profitable run in Game 7 towards Cleveland) and the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001 (when he was the M.V.P. of the league championship sequence and a part of the workforce’s profitable rally in Game 7 of the World Series towards the Yankees).

Counsell’s gamers lean on his expertise, which incorporates an entertaining 16-season profession as a serious leaguer — and a really unorthodox batting stance. Credit…Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

“He has a really good feel for the ball club,” mentioned Brent Suter, a Brewers left-handed reliever. “When we come home from road trips, he cuts down on work. Or he adds work when its necessary. He has a really good pulse energy wise, like when he needs to talk — speeches to the team — or when he needs to let the club be. That’s somewhat instinctual, but it also comes from playing for 15 whatever years in the big leagues.”

Although Counsell mentioned he wasn’t eager about it a lot whereas taking part in, the former Brewers General Manager Doug Melvin mentioned others typically seen Counsell as a possible supervisor due to his expertise, persona and intelligence.

“You can put all of that down on a list, but the one thing that stood out is the respect that he had of all his teammates,” Melvin mentioned. “Whenever I talked to people in the game, he was always one of the most well respected teammates who would not accept anything less than trying to win every day.”

The considered managing crossed Counsell’s thoughts extra in 2011, his ultimate season on the subject, when he was 41, hitting .178 for the Brewers and, in his estimation, was “a really bad player.” He remained on Milwaukee’s roster partly as a result of Melvin valued Counsell’s impression in the clubhouse.

Counsell didn’t know the way lengthy it could take for him to grow to be a supervisor or if it could occur. His purpose was to serve in a management place for a corporation, however his loyalties had been together with his hometown workforce.

“I felt that it would be my part to help baseball in Milwaukee moving forward after I was done playing,” he mentioned. “I didn’t know that it was going to be this necessarily. I feel really fortunate it is. I’ve always felt a responsibility for it and enjoy that responsibility.”

Counsell performed prep baseball at Whitefish Bay High School, which is 10 miles from the Brewers’ stadium.Credit…James Wagner/The New York TimesThe Little League subject in Whitefish Bay is known as for Counsell, as is the the subject at Whitefish Bay High.Credit…James Wagner/The New York Times

Counsell grew up in Whitefish Bay, a group 15 minutes north of the Brewers’ stadium, and nonetheless lives there. He is a proud graduate of Whitefish Bay High, the place he met his future spouse and all 4 of their kids will find yourself attending. His highschool’s subject, and the Little League park the place he as soon as performed, each bear his identify. His No. 19 jersey quantity was retired.

He performed for the Brewers for six seasons. After retiring, he returned in 2012 as a particular assistant to Melvin in the entrance workplace. Three years later, Melvin employed Counsell as supervisor.

“He knows how important the Brewers are to Milwaukee,” mentioned Jeff Margolis, who grew up with Counsell and was the greatest man at his marriage ceremony. He added later, “For as much as it would mean for anybody to be the manager of the Brewers, it means more to Craig.”

Calling Counsell “a Midwest kid,” Margolis mentioned Counsell nonetheless trims his garden with a driving mower given to him by the Hall of Fame nearer Trevor Hoffman, a former teammate. A couple of years in the past, Counsell stopped by his 30th highschool reunion after a day recreation in Milwaukee.

Counsell has stored issues unfastened this season, with assist from gamers like Christian Yelich, left, and Daniel Vogelbach. Credit…Charles Leclaire/USA Today Sports, through Reuters

On the subject, Counsell has earned reward for each his tactical and his interpersonal expertise, the latter of which is extra vital these days as entrance places of work have an more and more bigger function in how video games are performed. Underscoring the turnover of the demanding place, Counsell is the longest tenured supervisor in the N.L.

Josh Hader, one in all the Brewers’ star relievers, mentioned Counsell “doesn’t try to over-manage.” Corbin Burnes, one in all the Brewers’ ace starters and a number one candidate to say the N.L. Cy Young Award, mentioned he appreciates Counsell’s direct and open method of communication. Suter mentioned Counsell has nice situational consciousness and foresight in the best way to deploy relievers and pinch-hitters all through a recreation.

“I’ve coached for 40 years in all different settings and, on paper, it looks like I’ve had a lot of success,” mentioned Pat Murphy, Counsell’s former coach at Notre Dame and his bench coach with the Brewers since 2016. “But this guy has taught me so much about the major-league game and a lot of things. It’s supposed to be the other way around, right?”

Without his time working in the entrance workplace, in which he mentioned Melvin uncovered him to each aspect, Counsell mentioned he wouldn’t perceive the views of David Stearns, the workforce’s present president of baseball of operations, or Matt Arnold, the workforce’s basic supervisor.

“One of the reasons I’ve enjoyed working with Craig so much is that he has the ability to question everything that he does and that we do as an organization,” Stearns mentioned. “And through active questioning and discussion, he has naturally grown and altered his opinions on certain aspects of how he goes about it. But the general tenets of what he believes and strives to do is put players in the best position to succeed. That has been constant since day one.”

Case in level: The Brewers of 2021 are dominated by a reasonably conventional beginning rotation, a pointy distinction from 2018 when the workforce, carried by a dominant bullpen and Yelich, fell one win wanting reaching the World Series.

“In 2018, we had a team and particularly a pitching staff that required very active management pretty much from pitch one, and Craig understood that and tailored his style to that,” Stearns mentioned. “The team we have right now is built more around elite starting pitchers, and Craig has been able to tailor his management style to that and continue to put the pieces on our roster in the right spots.”

Counsell shared a second with Bud Selig, the former commissioner (and former proprietor of the Brewers) after Selig threw out a ceremonial first pitch forward of Game 6 of the National League Championship Series in 2018. Credit…Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

Counsell, who has twice been the runner-up for the N.L. Manager of the Year Award and faces stiff competitors for it this 12 months from Gabe Kapler of the San Francisco Giants, mentioned he cherished managing as a result of it gave him a novel perspective on watching gamers like Freddy Peralta, Brandon Woodruff, Burnes and Hader attain the main leagues and grow to be stars.

Woodruff, Burnes and Hader had been key figures on the 2018 workforce that was so near a pennant. Counsell mentioned that squad is remembered fondly in Milwaukee due to the journey it took followers on — one thing he mentioned baseball excels at in October. That workforce additionally offered new recollections to a fan base that, from 1983 till Stearns took over in 2015, had seen their favourite workforce make the playoffs solely twice, in 2008 and 2011.

Counsell lamented that the Brewers, one in all six franchises by no means to win a championship, haven’t returned to the World Series since 1982. He nonetheless thinks about that workforce, too. But at some point, he hopes to provides Brewers followers newer recollections to carry onto for all times.

“The fact that you’ve seen those moments and been a small part of them as a fan,” he mentioned, “it frankly makes you want to provide those moments for other fans because they don’t go away.”