As all of you are aware, Craig Counsell officially retired as a player from baseball on Tuesday to take a role in the Brewers' front office. With his retirement, we should look back on his long and rewarding career. It was a career that took him across the country, where he played a role in the success of several teams. It was a career that will go unnoticed by many people, but will be remembered by many others.
While Craig Counsell was originally born in South Bend, Indiana, he grew up in Whitefish Bay, a suburb of Milwaukee. The Counsell family had their original impact on the Brewers in the 1980s, when Craig's father, John, worked for the Brewers in their community relations department. During that time, Craig got to know some of the Brewers' stars, like Robin Yount and Paul Molitor. At the time, no one could guess just how the career of this young boy would play out.
After playing baseball for the University of Notre Dame, Craig Counsell was drafted in the 11th round of the 1992 MLB June Amateur Draft by the Colorado Rockies. He spent the next few years rising through the Rockies' minor league system, and earned himself a call-up in September of 1995. His major league debut came on September 17, 1995 against the Florida Marlins. He would only make four appearances for the Rockies, and was traded on July 27th, 1997 to the Florida Marlins.
In Florida, his MLB career got a kick start. He became the regular second baseman for the Marlins for the remainder of the 1997 season. He played 51 games that season, helping the Marlins reach the playoffs and eventually the World Series. It was in the 1997 World Series that Counsell scored the game winning run in the 11th inning of Game 7 against the Cleveland Indians, clinching the first ever World Series win for the Florida Marlins. He would remain the regular starter for the Marlins in 1998, but ended up playing mostly off the bench in 1999, and was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 15th. He would finish that season as a bench player, and was released in March of 2000.
Read more about the career of Craig Counsell after the jump.
Five days after being released by the Dodgers, the Diamondbacks signed him to a minor league contract. He spent the first two months of the season at Triple-A Tuscon, then earned a spot on the MLB roster in early June. He was a bench player for the remainder of 2000, but became a regular starter in 2001. He helped the Diamondbacks reach the postseason that year, and was named the NLCS MVP with an impressive performance that got the Diamondbacks to the World Series. Then, during Game 7 of the World Series, he was hit by a pitch from Mariano Rivera to load the bases in the 9th inning. That at-bat set up the game-winning hit from Luis Gonzalez, giving the Diamondbacks their first World Series win. As a result of his successful season, Arizona signed him to a three-year contract.
Over the next two seasons, Craig Counsell would struggle with injuries. He started 109 games in 2002 before a neck injury landed him on the DL for the rest of the season. He returned as a regular starter in 2003, but a dislocated thumb put him back on the DL for two months. When he returned, his role was reduced as he struggled to return to his previous form. Then, in December of 2003, he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in the major trade that brought Junior Spivey, Lyle Overbay, Chad Moeller, Chris Capuano, and Jorge De La Rosa to the Brewers for Richie Sexson and Shane Nance. His first stint in Milwaukee would be short. He only spent one season with the Brewers, starting 128 games at shortstop in 2004. He became a free agent after the 2004 season, and ended up signing back with Arizona on a two-year deal. Counsell started 140 games at second base in 2005, then moved over to shortstop in 2006. A broken rib that year took him out of action for six weeks, and when he returned, he ended up in a bench role as Stephen Drew came up and took over the regular job at shortstop. After the season, he became a free agent.
In November of 2006, the Brewers signed Craig Counsell to a two-year deal, passing up full-time jobs to play close to home. He originally signed to be a backup at second base and shortstop, as well as a left-handed bat off of the bench. However, Corey Koskie was still suffering from concussion symptoms, and Ryan Braun needed to work on his defense in the minors. As a result, Craig Counsell started the year in a platoon role with Tony Graffanino at third base. The platoon wouldn't last long, as their combined struggles at third base, along with Braun's hot bat in Nashville, would prompt the Brewers to promote Ryan Braun to the majors and make him the every day starter. Counsell returned to his role as a bench player, and spent the next two years in that role for the Brewers. During those years, he recorded his 1000th hit on August 16th of 2008 against Derek Lowe and the Los Angeles Dodgers. He also played a role in helping the Brewers break their 26-year postseason drought, which included at least one key at-bat. In the last game of the 2008 regular season, down a run in the 7th inning, he took a bases loaded walk to score Ray Durham and tie the game. The Brewers would go on to win that game and make it to their first postseason in 26 years.
After the 2008 season,third year option was declined and he became a free agent, but he signed with the Brewers again in January of 2009 on a one-year deal. With some adjustments made to his batting stance, he had a revitalized 2009 season and started 90 games. He remained with the Brewers for the 2010 and 2011 seasons, where his age began to catch up with him. Despite his struggles over those seasons, he provided a veteran presence that the club needed, and still played a role in getting the Brewers to another postseason appearance in 2011. One of his last great moments came on August 14th of 2011, in his 1600th MLB game, when a packed crowd at Miller Park gave him a standing ovation on his bobblehead day. He would play in a total of 1,624 regular season games in his career, along with 41 postseason games.
Craig Counsell had a personality as a player that we don't see much anymore. He cared more about doing what he could to get the team to win than his stat line. He was willing to take whatever role he was given if it would make the team better. Several times in his career, he ended up stepping back as younger, better players took the roles that he had filled. Despite all of that, he didn't complain. He just did what he could to make the team better.
Wherever he went, fans and players liked him. You never heard a player come out and complain about Counsell and his attitude or playing style. Whenever he went up to bat in an opposing stadium, the fans wouldn't boo him. In some cases (especially in the cities where he had played) he would get a round of applause. There wasn't anything to hate about him beyond the occasional struggles that he had at the plate.
Even in the later years of his career, he was more concerned about his family and wanting to play at home than playing time. As I was doing some research for this post, I came across some of the Brewers' press releases talking about Counsell. Here are some excerpts from one when he signed with the Brewers before the 2007 season:
Craig Counsell passed on opportunities to play everyday for the opportunity to play at home.
Counsell, who grew up in the Milwaukee suburb of Whitefish Bay and just bought a new home there, inked a two-year contract with the Brewers on Wednesday to return as a backup infielder. It's his second stint with his hometown team.
"It just felt right to me," said Counsell, who played for the Brewers in 2004 before leaving as a free agent. "Sometimes you go with your gut and what feels right."
"Family was part of the decision, for sure," said Counsell, who married his high-school sweetheart, Michelle, and has three young children, including an infant daughter. "But another part of it was that this is where I grew up. I've always loved the Brewers, and the chance to play for them again was appealing."
It was so appealing that Counsell, 36, spurned at least one three-year contract offer and several other deals to play every day. Reports surfaced in San Diego on Tuesday that Counsell had agreed to a two-year deal with the Padres, where he would have been the starting second baseman. Counsell called those reports, "just wrong" and "premature." He also said the Cleveland Indians made a strong push.
"I have no problem coming here trying to win playing time," Counsell said. "This team will be better off if those guys are playing well. But I'm sure I'll get in there enough."
That was the type of player that Counsell was during his career. He did what he could to help the team win and be better, even if it meant he would get less playing time. He was so committed to playing at home that he passed up opportunities to play more for other teams. It's not hard to see why so many Brewers fans loved him during his career as a Brewer. He was a hometown player that did what he needed to do each and every day. It's hard to not relate to that.
What's next for Craig Counsell? For now, he will be working in the Brewers' front office as a special assistant to Doug Melvin. While his career as a player has come to an end, his career as an executive is just beginning. He wants to be a GM someday, and this is the first step. While I was writing this, Nicole mentioned the rough road that Counsell has ahead of him. Of the thirty active GMs, only a few are former players. With the insight that a former player can bring to the role, it is a surprise to find that the number is so low. Another point to consider is his age. Counsell is already 41 years old. Once he has enough experience to be a GM, he will be on the older end of the age spectrum. With a push towards younger executives in baseball, it will be another hurdle for him to overcome. Despite these challenges, if there is a player that could take this challenge, it would be Counsell. With his work ethic, he has a fighting chance to make it through this rough road.
Who knows what the future has in store for him? It's possible that he will play an integral role in getting the Brewers to win the World Series. Maybe he will have a long and successful career as an executive. It's also possible that twenty years in the future, we may hear the name Counsell on the Brewers' roster again, as one of Craig's sons, Brady or Jack, starts a long baseball career after being inspired by the time their father spent as a Brewer.
Thanks for all of the memories, Craig. Good luck in your new career.
(Information from Baseball-Reference.com, Baseball-Almanac.com, ProRumors.com, and news releases for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Milwaukee Brewers were used in writing this article.)