MILWAUKEE -- Craig Counsell was a 19-year-old at the University of Notre Dame when he met then-Oakland A's general manager Sandy Alderson and set his sights on a future in the front office. "For me, it was, 'That's what I want to do when I grow up. I want to be a GM,'" Counsell said. "Twenty years of playing got in the way. I'm happy that happened, but I thought back a couple of days ago that I'm finally doing what I thought I would be doing when I was 19 years old. That's pretty cool." Counsell on Tuesday announced the end of a fine playing career that spanned parts of 16 Major League seasons and netted him two World Series rings, and the beginning of a new career in his hometown team's front office. The Brewers hired Counsell as a special assistant to general manager Doug Melvin, and Melvin made it very clear that this is no ceremonial position.
Instead of having Counsell don a Brewers jersey, the tradition for new player introductions, Melvin offered a navy blazer and said Counsell would be put to work. "I'm excited for this challenge," said Counsell, who grew up just north of Milwaukee in Whitefish Bay, Wis., and still lives there. "I'm excited that I have a lot to learn. That's what made this job appealing to me, is that it's a challenge." There's a bonus. "I'm excited I don't have to get any hits anymore," Counsell joked. "That was a challenge in the end there." He batted .178 (28-for-157) mostly as a pinch-hitter in 2011, including an 0-for-45 streak that spanned nearly two months. Counsell turned 41 along the way, but until Tuesday had been weighing offers to play another season in 2012. None of them went beyond a Minor League deal and an invitation to win a job in big league camp. Counsell also weighed offers to coach, including at least one firm job from new Cubs manager Dale Sveum to be Chicago's first-base coach. But the timing was not right, said Counsell, who at the time was still wrestling with the question of whether to call it a career. By Tuesday, that question had a clear answer. "This means I'm done playing," Counsell said. "I'm retired for sure. How do you come to that decision? For me, it was just time. It was time for a new challenge, time for something different. "It's hard to make that decision, but in a lot of ways, it was kind of easy. It's easy when you've got more softball teams calling you than baseball teams." His tough 2011 marked a sour end to an otherwise sweet career that saw Counsell on base for a pair of World Series-winning hits. He was traded from the Rockies to the Marlins as a rookie in 1997 and wound up scoring the winning run in a decisive Game 7 against the Indians on Edgar Renteria's 11th-inning single. Four years later, with the D-backs, Counsell was hit by a Mariano Rivera pitch to load the bases for Luis Gonzalez's winning bloop single in Game 7 of the 2001 Series against the Yankees. In all, Counsell was a .255 hitter in parts of 16 Major League seasons, six of them with the Brewers. He played in nine postseason series. "The things that have happened [in my career], I don't even know if they were in my dreams," Counsell said. "I'm very grateful. I feel like it's been a pretty good run." Counsell was born in South Bend, Ind., but grew up in Whitefish Bay, a suburb just north of Milwaukee within a bicycle ride of Miller Park. Counsell, who still lives there with his wife, Michelle, and four kids, said he plans to bike to work at least once a week starting in spring. His Brewers roots are deep. Counsell's father, John, worked in the team's front office from 1979-87 and had an office just down the hall from then-owner Allan H. "Bud" Selig. Now he's following in dad's footsteps. The plan calls for Counsell to be in uniform for the early weeks of Spring Training, but once games begin, he will watch with Melvin, assistant GM Gord Ash and other front office officials from their booth at Maryvale Baseball Park. Counsell plans to work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Miller Park like any other front-office employee and will focus on a myriad of projects, from player evaluation to the First-Year Player Draft to the team's medical program. "Some players transition into this role and think they're going to come in at 11 and leave at 1 [p.m.] and play golf that afternoon," Ash said. "I can assure you, that's not how we work here. I think Craig is ready for that and he understands that, and I think that is going to serve him well." Said Melvin: "He's always been a team player, and I think he'll look at the front office in the same way." Counsell brings a unique point of view to the front office; for the past 10 years, he has been intricately involved in the Players Association. Counsell was at the negotiating table for the culmination of each of the game's last two labor agreements. "It's been a great learning experience, more than anything," Counsell said. "Those are experiences and conversations that are really going to help me in this new job. You get a knowledge of some of the macro issues in baseball and just the rules of engagement with clubs versus players. ... That experience is going to help me get a jump-start."