Counsell, Clark reunite at spring camp

Former teammates share long-standing connection to MLBPA

Counsell, Clark reunite at spring camp

PHOENIX -- Technically, the former teammates are on opposite ends of baseball's labor structure now. Tony Clark is entering his first collective bargaining session as executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, and Craig Counsell is entering his first full season as manager of the Milwaukee Brewers after a stint in the team's front office.

When they reunited Friday at Maryvale Baseball Park, they were old friends and mutual admirers.

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"Principled," Clark said of Counsell. "There are certain things that are unwavering, that, 'I'm not going to compromise.' That's how he's always been. I don't see any of that changing anytime soon.

"So, despite the fact that he's [a manager], those principles still exist. They're mainstays and part of his equation. Yes, negotiations are often about compromise and common ground, but the principles don't change."

And Counsell's take on Clark?

"He was going to be a leader of something after he was done playing," Counsell said. "He was going to lead people, there's no question. He was going to be a manager. But he had a close relationship with [former MLBPA executive director] Michael Weiner, and Michael made a great decision in bringing Tony aboard quickly.

"We're friends, so we speak because we're friends. We were teammates. We spent a lot of time together, so we've maintained contact, and we always will."

They were Arizona Diamondbacks teammates in 2005 and '06, each deeply involved in the MLBPA as player representatives and executive committee members. They were both at the bargaining table in 2011, Counsell as a current player and Clark as a former one, during the last round of labor talks, which resulted in a Basic Agreement that expires after this season.

Clark, who became the first former Major Leaguer to head the MLBPA after Weiner passed away in 2013, was in Brewers camp Friday morning to brief players on the current discussions.

Before the meeting, Clark and Counsell caught up.

"That relationship has been solid for a long time, despite the fact that he's in the dugout now and not working with the players directly, with respect to union and management," Clark said. "The truth is, there aren't too many guys that understand and appreciate the relationships that exist more than he does."

Have Counsell's opinions on labor matters been colored by his recent years in the front office?

"You certainly get a different viewpoint of them, yeah," Counsell said. "Look, you can get more well-rounded in understanding the issues."

Even in the middle of Counsell's playing career, he was viewed as future managerial material. So it surprised some observers around baseball when his first job after retirement was in the Brewers' front office as a special assistant to general manager Doug Melvin, learning all aspects of front-office work. He moved back to the dugout last May after the Brewers dismissed manager Ron Roenicke.

Counsell's old friend was not surprised by the front-office stint.

"Whatever 'Counse' wanted to do, he was going to have the opportunity to do and excel at," Clark said. "Whether that was a manager, whether that was working on the players' side, whether that was working in the front office somewhere, he has the ability to do any and all of that.

"So it's not surprising to see him in the position that he's in. It also won't be surprising, as he continues to do what he's doing, to [see Counsell] have the success I would anticipate him having."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.