Craig Counsell has a compelling case for the best manager in Major League Baseball. In just his second full season at the helm for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2017, he piloted a team with no expectations to an 86-win season and had them in playoff contention until the second-to-last day of the season. After an active offseason where the franchise loudly declared that they were ready to compete, expectations were raised entering 2018. Counsell responded by leading the Menomonee Valley Nine to a team-record 96 victories, a game 163 victory over the Chicago Cubs to win the National League Central, and an NLDS sweep leading up to tonight’s National League Championship Series game one, which his squad will host at Miller Park.
Counsell was voted on by his managerial peers as the Sporting News Manager of the Year in 2017, and he seems poised to capture every “best manager” award out there this season. In the face of constant outside criticism, he’s bucked convention at every turn in the way he deploys his lineups, defensive alignments, and especially his beloved group of “out-getters,” and yet almost every one of his moves has paid off. The players who work with him day in and day out constantly praise the job that Counsell does as a leader and as a pillar of the clubhouse. According to MVP candidate Christian Yelich, “the guys follow his lead and he’s been great for us.”
But Craig Counsell is more than just the man who gets paid to manage our local baseball team.
Craig Counsell, Whitefish Bay native: “I do feel like baseball in Milwaukee and Wisconsin is part of my responsibility.” #Brewers— Cat Garcia (@TheBaseballGirl) October 11, 2018
Counsell’s bio will tell you that he was born in South Bend, Indiana, but he grew up right here in greater Milwaukee. His family lived in Whitefish Bay and he played his high school ball at Whitefish Bay High School before heading off to Notre Dame. Most notably, Craig’s dad worked in the Brewers’ front office as director of community relations. Counsell had the opportunity to grow up inside of County Stadium, and just like every one of us, he fell in love with baseball and with the Milwaukee Brewers.
#Brewers manager #CraigCounsel as a young boy with original #FrostyBoy Rollie Fingers!!! #OGFrostyBoy #Forkball #FrostyBoys @Bill_Michaels @AdamMcCalvy pic.twitter.com/89PguxozsR— Michael August (@AmazinFranchise) October 2, 2018
Counsell carved out a distinguished 16-year baseball career that included two World Series rings (1997, 2001) and six seasons wearing “Brewers” across his chest, and he was a part of the team’s postseason runs in both 2008 and 2011. After his playing career wrapped up in 2011, he spurned opportunities to join other organizations and accepted a front office post with the Brewers under Doug Melvin. When he was offered the opportunity to step in and manage the Brewers on the field as they sought a new organizational direction in 2015, he jumped at the chance and hasn’t looked back.
Craig reminds us often how meaningful this job - and the responsibility that comes along with it - is to him. That’s because Craig Counsell is one of us.
Counsell is every parent who has gone outside to play catch with their kids, even when the weather might be more condusive to sledding.
Craig is every person who struggles to focus at work when there’s an afternoon game on the radio.
Counsell is every person who huddles in the corner tavern to enjoy a frosty beverage or two watch the game on TV.
CC is every fan that proudly reps the Brewers with the clothes they wear, the hats they don, and the flags they fly.
He is every fan that drives from all across the state to tailgate in the Miller Park lots before heading inside to cheer on Wisconsin’s baseball team.
This city, and this state, has come down with an intense case of baseball fever. The Brewers have superseded the mighty Packers on the flagship radio station for the last several Sundays. Establishments all around Wisconsin are hosting watch parties and people are positively buzzing about this team. Even local street artists are getting swept up in the commotion.
The wall of the Apothecary on 3rd and National this morning.#Brewers#ThisIsMyCrew pic.twitter.com/lvQaY4uEiD— Kyle L. (@brewerfan28) October 4, 2018
Lately I’ve had several people approach me, after seeing the Ball and Glove tattoo on my left bicep, and begin a conversation about just how excited they are about the Brewers. The team is winning over new fans, too.
Brewers seem determined to make me actually watch a baseball game this year— Tim Siegler (@siggyt531) September 30, 2018
we are now accepting all bandwagon applications from newly minted brewers fans.— megan BREWERS NL CENTRAL CHAMPIONS brown (@thatgirlondeck) October 10, 2018
approval granted faster if dog photo is included with application. #OurCrewOurOctober
I love Milwaukee and am proud to be from Wisconsin. Life has taken me to a lot of different and far away places, but this city and state have always been and will always be home. For me, the coolest part about all of this is that Milwaukee - and Wisconsin as a whole - rallying around the Brewers means just as much to Craig Counsell as it does to all of us. He told us so back in the winter of 2015-16.
I don’t know you, I don’t know your story, your background, what you do for a living.
And yet, I do know you.
I know how your eyes lit up the first time you walked into County Stadium. I know how as a kid, you dreamed of being Robin Yount, and wanted nothing more than to one day wear that Brewers script across your chest.
I know that every summer you stay up late listening to Mr. Baseball on the radio.
I know that you’ll never forget October 10th, 1982.
Or September 28th, 2008.
Or October 7th, 2011.
I know you, because I am you. You and me, we’re cut from the same cloth. This isn’t something we chose, it’s not a bandwagon we jumped on when it was convenient, it’s something we were born into. A piece of our identity passed down from generations before.
Just like you, I was born a Brewer.
This is my first love, my passion, my responsibility. It’s a torch I’ll carry with me always. Through the ups and the down, the good times and the bad, no matter what, this will always be my team.
Brewers baseball, it’s part of who I am. It’s part of who we are.