Mike Bauman

Counsell on rebuilding Brewers: 'It's a big job'

Counsell on rebuilding Brewers: 'It's a big job'

MILWAUKEE -- The Milwaukee Brewers have the right manager, Craig Counsell, and they may have found the right general manager, David Stearns. Next up: the toughest part, assembling the right 25 players.

At this early stage, it was encouraging to hear the new GM, in his introductory news conference, say: "Craig's a really impressive guy. He has a tremendous reputation in the industry."

Both of those statements qualify solidly as true. Counsell's reputation would also include intelligence, a fierce work ethic and a winning attitude. As a player, he was an integral part of two World Series champion teams.

And Counsell is not a carpetbagger manager, passing through town on his way to his winter home in Arizona or Southern California. He grew up in Whitefish Bay, Wis. Counsell still lives here -- in the winter. He knows what this ballclub means to this community, this area, this state.

To complete the package, Counsell is an honest man. In a recent interview with, he did not do the easy thing, which would have been saying that prosperity was just around the corner for his team. Instead, Counsell spoke the truth, stressing the difficulty involved in rebuilding the Brewers into consistent, sustainable winners.

"I don't have any grandiose speeches yet, because I do think that where we're at it the process of building, there's going to be painful moments still," Counsell said. "And that's OK. That's what happens when you try to build something great. There's some pain in there.

"It almost has to happen, that pain. And there's still more pain coming. That's not to scare people. But if you want something great, you've got to be willing to undergo some pain. It's a big job getting to where we want to get to. It's a big job."

There is pain now, literally, with the Brewers. Jonathan Lucroy is out after suffering a concussion. Jimmy Nelson will not pitch again this year after being struck in the head by a line drive. Ryan Braun will need back surgery in the offseason.

But even beyond that, this building project is a major undertaking. You wonder if the two more years on Counsell's contract is enough time.

"Do I have enough time?" Counsell said with a smile. "I've got all day for the next two years."

But when we get to the question of whether two years remaining on a contract is enough for a manager in this situation, Counsell's response is telling. He doesn't see it in those terms, because he doesn't see the job in those terms.

"The day is put in front of us," Counsell said, "and I'm trying to capture that day for us and make us a little bit better, make sure on a daily basis we're doing the right things and thinking the right things. And then, the hope for me is that that adds up over the long term.

"Right now, where I'm sitting, that's as far as I think about it. Think about making today a good day, making today a productive day, a positive day that people can carry forward. Hopefully, they all build one on each other. That's the way you have to do it, because it's slow, it's not one night or one day, it's the decisions you make every day.

"I think these things are built on a series of good decisions stacked on top of each other. They're not built on one decision. That's what I believe. If you keep making good decisions -- whether it be as a player in your work habits every day, whether it be in your in-game decisions -- ultimately, all of those decisions are going to lead to a good thing. Hopefully, that's where we take ourselves.

"We're trying to implement that mentality, that every day is an opportunity to get better. It's an opportunity to compete, an opportunity to perform. If we do it every day, it becomes part of who we are. That's what I'm trying to do and I hope everybody understands that"

This is precisely the kind of approach that made Counsell an essential part of championship teams with the Florida Marlins in 1997 and the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001. After Counsell was named MVP of the 2001 National League Championship Series, Arizona's then-manager Bob Brenly said that, because Counsell had mastered all "the little things" in the game, it made him capable of producing the big things.

"I don't think there's any magic bullets," Counsell said. "There are no quick fixes. It's about a daily consistency in who we are. And when it becomes who you are, that's when the group elevates itself to become maybe more than what they are, which is what happens when teams find that little spark. They elevate themselves and they become greater than the sum of their parts.

"What you want to do is put yourself in that position, so when that spark hits, your group is ready to become that. And I don't know when that's going to be. But that's what you want to prepare the group for, for when that time comes, we're ready to take advantage of it."

It won't be easy. It won't be painless. It won't be magic. But the Brewers have a basic component for success in place -- a manager who knows precisely what it takes to be a winner.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.