Craig Counsell hired as Brewers manager after 7-18 start
MILWAUKEE (AP) 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 he was hired 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,'' he said. ''These opportunities are rare. This opportunity is the one, and it's the rarest.''
Counsell was a winner in his debut Monday night when the Brewers beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-3 to improve to 8-18 - still the worst record in the majors despite a three-game winning streak.
Before the game, Counsell held a team meeting.
''It was a simple message for me, on some things that are important to me and I'm going to emphasize and be on them about,'' he said. ''I really just want them to be open to what we're going to do going forward. That's what I ask of them. Open yourselves up to new things, and to be better, and to trust each other, and then we're going to push a little bit.
''We're going to try to be better teammates,'' he added. ''That's always been a big thing for me. Ever since I've sat in locker rooms, the importance of being a quality teammate has been at the top of your job as a major league baseball player.''
Milwaukee lost 40 of its final 56 games under Roenicke, fired Sunday night despite a contract that runs through 2016. The skid included a late-season collapse last year, after the Brewers led the NL Central for nearly five months, and a 2-13 start this season.
All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy, on the disabled list since April 15 with a broken toe, said Roenicke was not to blame for the team's performance on the field.
''I think a lot of it relies on the players,'' Lucroy said. ''And we didn't perform up to our standards, obviously - my standards at least. I believe we're a lot better than what we've shown.''
Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun said he didn't expect the move after consecutive wins over the Cubs.
''The timing of it, I think, was surprising,'' Braun said. ''We had won three of our last four, coming off back-to-back wins for the first time, first series we've won all year. There were some signs that were pointing in the right direction for the first time in a long time, so I think the timing of it is obviously surprising and disappointing for all of us.''
All-Star center fielder Carlos Gomez, who came off the disabled list Friday, said Roenicke was more like family than just a manager, but thought the club would respond well to Counsell.
''He's a guy that respects the game and played for a long time,'' Gomez said. ''It was only a few years ago he was playing. He still has that feeling. I think we are going to be all right. A lot of players here played with him.''
Counsell had 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 39-65 since last July 1. The Brewers had 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.
He credited two of his managers, Jim Leyland in Florida and Bob Melvin in Arizona, for leaving a lasting influence.
In 2011, 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 NL Championship Series.
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.
AP freelance writer Jim Hoehn contributed to this report.