Even coming off Saturday’s disappointing loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers – the team’s only defeat since Sept. 22 – the Milwaukee Brewers are still in excellent position to get back to the World Series for the first time in nearly four decades.
David Stearns’ ability to build this deep and talented roster from the ground up is a big part of why the Brewers are knocking on the doorstep of a championship, but Craig Counsell’s managing style, in-game tactics and demeanor have been just as important in elevating this team to greatness.
In 2016, prior to his first full season as manager, Counsell and the Brewers released an inspiring video about his roots in the Milwaukee area. (Counsell grew up in Whitefish Bay and attended Whitefish Bay High School.)
A manager’s impact on the team and the game varies from clubhouse to clubhouse, but it’s always been clear that not only does Counsell have a strong feel for his own locker room, he also has his finger on the pulse of the entire organization.
Counsell, 48, grew up as a Brewers fan. He played baseball in the area, and across his 16-year big league career, he received more at-bats for Milwaukee than any other team. He recorded his 1,000th career hit, 200th career double and 100th career stolen base all while donning the Brewers’ blue and gold. And even towards the end of his playing days, Counsell remained a key veteran on two of the most memorable teams in the organization’s history in 2008 and 2011.
When he ultimately retired following the 2011 campaign, Counsell continued to dive into the belly of the Brewers, serving as a special assistant to then-general manager Doug Melvin, as well as occasionally popping into the broadcast booth. And when the Brewers needed a new manager in the middle of 2015, whom else could they turn to but the man who had studied the organization as a child, a fan, an opponent, a teammate, an advisor and a broadcaster? Counsell understands the Brewers – and their role as a unifying force in the area – perhaps more than anyone on earth.
And that’s why the Brewers have shocked everyone over the past two seasons, winning more games (192) since the start of 2017 than any other National League club outside of Chicago and Los Angeles. What originally looked like a team full of misfits – and still does from time to time – has coalesced into an elite juggernaut behind the on-field brilliance and off-field insight of Counsell.
Brewers superstar Christian Yelich has shown obvious affection for his adopted home, but it’s even more special to watch the local kid lead his hometown to glory, which is what Counsell is pursuing this month. The former Whitefish Bay star turned major league manager has already put his stamp on baseball in Milwaukee, but seven more wins in October would be enough to make him a legend.