On two occasions this year, national baseball writers have taken up the speculation surrounding Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell and his lack of a contract after this season. Bob Nightengale of USA Today, back in July, and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic just last week.
Nightengale focused on Counsell potentially retiring, while Rosenthal opined that Counsell could hop to another MLB team as manager. Nightengale often throws things against the wall and hopes something sticks, while Rosenthal is very thoughtful about what he writes and is thought of as perhaps the best MLB reporter at this time. Nightengale had a couple quotes from current or former players talking about Counsell, Rosenthal did not have any comments, anonymous or otherwise.
Neither of those will happen if you know anything about Counsell. For his part, Counsell has kept quiet about the situation and said he will address his future with the Brewers when the season ends.
Here are four reasons why Counsell isn’t going anywhere:
4. Move To The Front Office?
Whenever you watch Counsell in the Brewers’ dugout, he is always churning on some decision, whether it is for that plate appearance, that pitch or anticipating a strategic move in the next half-inning. The wear-and-tear of that constant grind from the start of spring training through the 162-game regular season and then the playoffs takes its toll. So Counsell, who turned 53 last month, might think of something different.
Counsell was a special assistant to then-general manager Doug Melvin when hired as manager May 4, 2015, replacing the fired Ron Roenicke. And no one knows the Brewers’ organization like Counsell. So if he decides that he doesn’t want to manage — at least for the moment — it would make sense that he moves into a role in the Brewers’ front office.
Counsell had a terrific relationship with David Stearns, who succeeded Melvin as GM in following the 2015 season, the same year Counsell became manager. Stearns stepped away from leading the Brewers’ baseball operations following the 2022 season and remains under contract this season. His future remains up in the air, with the New York Mets a likely top suitor, but with others also in pursuit. Could Counsell follow Stearns to the Mets or wherever he lands? Of course. But highly unlikely. Counsell also has a very good relationship with current Brewers GM Matt Arnold. The two have lived close to each other and often take walks in the neighborhood together.
What type of role would Counsell take? Yes, he could be named head of baseball operations, with Arnold remaining as GM. He could also take an advisory role for a year as he sorts out exactly what he wants to do. But Counsell isn’t one to necessarily take free money. He is one of the best game managers in MLB and knows that is how he can best contribute to the Brewers.
3. Milwaukee Is Home
Counsell grew up in the Milwaukee area, specifically the suburb of Whitefish Bay, Wis., where he went to high school. His four kids, two sons and two daughters, are either graduates of or still attending Whitefish Bay High School. The city named its Little League park after Counsell. As a kid, he followed his dad, John, who worked in the Brewers’ front office in a community relations role, to County Stadium and had dreams of one day playing for his hometown team.
He accomplished that and more. Not only did Counsell play for the Brewers, he joined their front office as a special assistant. While his oldest son, Brady, attends college at Minnesota (Wisconsin does not have a Big Ten Conference baseball program) and is an infielder who is a projected MLB Draft choice next summer. His other son, Jack, is a freshman at Michigan. Eldest daughter Finley is a high school senior who has played basketball, while Rowan appears to also be a hooper and a freshman in high school.
Some speculate that Counsell would take time off from managing to follow his sons’ careers, especially as one is about to be drafted. But Counsell is truly a family man and wouldn’t leave his daughters behind. Also, his wife, Michelle, is a very private person, so sticking in Wisconsin would be big from her standpoint.
2. Job Not Done
There was an excellent pair of graphics in Rosenthal’s column. One showed the Brewers under Counsell (not counting the partial 2015 season) are 53 games better than what FanGraphs projected as a record and 22 games better than the Pythagorean won-loss record. With the exception of his first full season (74-88 in 2016) and the pandemic-shortened 2020 (29-31), the Crew have finished above .500 in every other of his seven full seasons. The Brewers made the postseason in a franchise-record four straight years before missing by one game in 2022, that after a 29-31 record following the Josh Hader trade that appeared to rattle the clubhouse.
Despite his reputation of getting the most out of his roster that is built with mainly less-expensive talent with a focus on pitching and defense and an opportunistic offense, Counsell’s consistency in winning games has not yielded a National League Manager of the Year award. But he is unlikely concerned about that.
Instead, Counsell wants only one thing as a lifelong Brewers fan and now manager of that team: To win a World Series. The Brewers have only been to one World Series, in 1982 when they were in the American League and lost a tough seven-gamer to the St. Louis Cardinals. Many fans still revere that team with Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Rollie Fingers, Cecil Cooper, Ted Simmons, Gorman Thomas, Mike Caldwell, Pete Vuckovich and Don Sutton.
Counsell wants to create a new generation of memories. And for the most part, he has. Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, Devin Williams, Christian Yelich, Willy Adames, and Hader have carved out their place in team history. But a World Series brings a whole new level of notoriety. Not to mention a lifetime of free adult beverages in Brewtown.
Already, Counsell has had a key role in two iconic World Series. He scored the winning on Edgar Renteria’s 11th-inning single as the Florida Marlins beat Cleveland 3-2 in Game 7 to win the 1997 World Series. In 2001 while playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks against the New York Yankees, Counsell was hit by a pitch with the game tied 2-2 in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7 just prior to Luis Gonzalez’s walk-off Series-winning single off Mariano Rivera to cap one of the most epic Fall Classics you will witness.
So it’s not like Counsell needs a ring to cement his legacy. He already has a Cinderella-like reputation there. No, Counsell wants to bring the Brewers their first World Series championship. The Crew were tantalizingly close to making a World Series in 2018, falling to the Los Angeles Dodgers in seven games in the NL Championship Series.
1. The Uecker Contract
The only person with more juice in the Brewers organization than Counsell is Bob Uecker, the team’s radio announcer since 1971. Up until 2021, Uecker never signed a contract with his employer, instead consummating his deals with handshakes with either Bud Selig or Mark Attanasio, owners of the team throughout his tenure. The only reason he did sign in 2021 is to be covered by the team’s health insurance following cuts to his benefits stemming from his acting career.
Uecker and Counsell are synonymous with the Brewers for their own reasons. (And Ueck is not just a comedian doing baseball games. He can be very insightful on strategy and other inner workings. Just listen to a Brewers game sometime.)
Rosenthal rarely writes anything of this gravity without at least a few embers stoking the fire. But on the other hand, what if Counsell has already informed Attanasio and Arnold, the GM, of his willingness to sign a third three-year contract extension. Counsell is the longest-tenured NL manager and trails only Terry Francona of the Cleveland Guardians and Kevin Cash of the Tampa Bay Rays, whose first games with those franchises were Opening Day of 2013 and 2015, respectively.
Is there a chance Counsell wants to move on, as Rosenthal opined, or simply seeks a break, as Nightengale alluded? Yes, of course. But Counsell doesn’t seem burned out or frustrated by the situation the small-market Brewers deal with on a yearly basis.
What managerial openings would be more attractive to Counsell? With no managerial firings to this point in the season, possible vacancies could be the Guardians, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels, Chicago White Sox, and St. Louis Cardinals. (No, the New York Mets are not firing Buck Schowalter.) The Angels are a mess and far away from contending. The Yankees wouldn’t fit his family life. The Cardinals are a rival of the Brewers and there doesn’t appear to be any bad blood that would prompt that move. The White Sox? A possibility considering the proximity to Milwaukee and deeper pockets to spend and quickly turn around that franchise. Francona could leave the Guardians for health reasons and Cleveland is closer to contending than the White Sox and is more low-key than New York or L.A.
But Counsell isn’t leaving Milwaukee.