Brewers owner Mark Attanasio admitted he was as stunned as anyone by Craig Counsell joining the Cubs but said he did not feel “betrayed” by the longtime manager’s departure from Milwaukee.
The Cubs shocked the baseball world Monday by firing manager David Ross and replacing him with Counsell, who was synonymous with the Brewers after spending the past 17 years with the organization as a player, executive and manager.
Attanasio told reporters that when Counsell informed him of his decision, his response was: “Are you messing with me?”
“We’re all here today because we lost Craig,” Attanasio said. “But I’ve reflected on this — Craig has lost us, and he’s lost our community also.”
Counsell, who led the budget-conscious Brewers to five playoff appearances and three NL Central titles over the past six years, became one of the biggest managerial free agents in recent years when his contract expired at the end of this season.
Although he was expected to either remain with the Brewers or be hired by the New York Mets, Counsell ultimately ended up with the Cubs, agreeing to what sources told ESPN is a five-year deal worth a record-setting $40 million.
“It kind of came out of nowhere,” Brewers ace Corbin Burnes told MLB.com. “I think my reaction is the same as everyone in the organization and the fan base: We’re just shocked initially.”
“I’m still processing it, too,” Brewers pitcher Brandon Woodruff added. “I was not expecting the Cubs. … But then when you dig down a little bit deeper, you kind of get it.”
Attanasio was asked whether he viewed Counsell’s move to the rival Cubs as a betrayal.
“Definitely not betrayed,” he said. “I’m so high on what we have that I can’t imagine somebody wanting to be somewhere else. … Our goal for our family is for me and my sons to be the stewards for the community for a long time, and then hopefully past 2050, someone else will have the same emotion for the team, the community that’s very special.
“From the first day I got here, there’s no place in the country like Milwaukee.”
Attanasio said the Brewers previously had offered Counsell a contract that “would have made him the highest-paid manager in baseball, both per season and the total package.”
“I felt very good about that, and he made a decision to go another direction,” said Attanasio, who declined to answer whether the Brewers were given the opportunity to match the Cubs’ offer.
Counsell grew up as a Brewers fan in the Milwaukee suburb of Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin. His father, John Counsell, is the Brewers’ former director of community affairs.
The former Brewers infielder took over as Milwaukee’s manager during the 2015 season after the firing of Ron Roenicke and went 707-625 in eight-plus seasons, giving him the franchise record for wins and games managed.
But Counsell started indicating as early as September that he was open to a change, according to Attanasio, who said he wanted to give Counsell the chance to test the open market.
“He had given a lot of years to the organization, and he asked for the opportunity to do this,” Attanasio said. “I want to support our people.”
Attanasio announced that Counsell’s coaching staff will be back with the team next season and said the Brewers would be “committed to finding a manager who can be as successful as Craig.”
“We have a really good thing,” Attanasio said. “I give Craig credit for helping to build that, and for adding all these coaches — all of whom have stayed.
“So we’re going to look for a manager who can continue having a terrific clubhouse culture and that can help us keep winning and hopefully get over the hump in the playoffs.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.