‘Complete shock:’ Brewers fans, owner react after Craig Counsell leaves for the Chicago Cubs

Counsell will be highest paid manager in baseball history

Craig Counsell
Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell works in the dugout in the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds, Saturday, April 15, 2017, in Cincinnati. The Reds won 7-5. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Craig Counsell grew up in Whitefish Bay, just miles away from County Stadium — the former home of the Milwaukee Brewers.

As a child, he spent many days at the stadium, where his dad worked in the front office for the team, surrounded by players and coaches.

As an adult, he spent six seasons playing for the team he grew up following as a diehard fan. Then, in 2015, he began his nine-year tenure as manager of the team, leading the Brewers to five playoff appearances in six years and accumulating the most wins of any manager in the history of the franchise.

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Counsell managed his last regular season game with the Brewers against the Chicago Cubs on Sept. 30.

On March 28, 2024, he’ll manage his first game as the new manager of the Chicago Cubs — the Brewers’ rival 90 miles to the south. That move was announced Monday and sent shock waves across the baseball world.

Some fans are happy for the hometown kid. But others feel betrayed, including Wisconsin resident and baseball fan Joe Livesey.

“He’s been a Wisconsin person his whole entire life, and now he’s going to Chicago. Like, why is he doing that to the fans?” Livesey said outside of American Family Field Tuesday. “Pretty devastating.”

Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell looks around the stadium during a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023, in Chicago. Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Viewed by some as the best manager in baseball, he will be the highest paid manager in the sport, making $40 million over the next five years.

Now, the Brewers’ front office will shift their focus toward finding Counsell’s replacement in their attempt to win their first World Series.

“We’re all here today because we lost Craig,” Brewers owner Mark Attanasio said Monday during a press conference. “But I’ve reflected on this – Craig has lost us, and he’s lost our community also – it’s really a special place to be.”

Attanasio said he didn’t feel betrayed by the move, which gives the Cubs the longest-tenured manager in the National League. But he also didn’t see it coming.

“When he (Counsell) first told me, I said, ‘Are you messing with me?’”Attanasio told reporters Monday.

Craig Counsell grew up in Whitefish Bay and has his number retired at the Whitefish Bay High School baseball park. Evan Casey/WPR

Milwaukee resident Dennis Austin grew up in Chicago and considers himself a fan of both the Brewers and the Cubs. He said he’s excited for Counsell, who is up for the manager of the year award this year.

“It’s exciting to me going there,” Austin said. “He’s been here for a while, so sometimes, it’s just time to move on.”

But for several years, Counsell has discussed how he feels a sense of responsibility for baseball thriving in the city and state.

“Baseball in this city is important to me. It’s part of me. I feel a responsibility for it. I always have,” Counsell said during a 2015 press conference.

When the move was announced Monday, Curt Hogg, who covers the team for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, said it was a surprise to him and many others who cover the sport. Rumors had been swirling about where the 53-year-old manager would head next after his contract expired, but almost no one expected it to be the Cubs.

“This was more than a complete surprise and complete shock to me, and not just me, basically everyone around the industry,” Hogg said. “I get the sense it was a shock to people within the Brewers as well.”

“No matter how you spin it, or how you look at it, Craig Counsell left the Brewers to take a very large sum of money and manage their most heated rival,” Hogg said.

Three fans stand in the parking lot in front of American Family Field
A fan takes a photo of American Family Field before the Brewers’ season opener against the Twins on Thursday, April 1, 2021, in Milwaukee. Angela Major/WPR

The team will spend the coming weeks and months finding a new manager and preparing for Opening Day on March 28, 2024. There’s several current and former coaches who could take the job, including current bench coach Pat Murphy, former Giants Manager Gabe Kapler or former Brewers player Rickie Weeks.

“It’s really, really hard to say in what direction they’re (Brewers) going to go in terms of who, or what team, if it’s internal or external,” Hogg said. “It’s going to be interesting to see this play out over the next couple of weeks.”

Attanasio said he’s already started to talk to players about the qualities they want to see in their next manager.

“We plan on winning with the next manager,” Attanasio said.

The Brewers will face off against the Cubs in Milwaukee for the first time next year on Monday, May 27.

“I’m going to come with my Cubs gear on,” Austin said.

But Livesey plans to take a different approach.

“I’ll give him (Counsell) a boo, yeah,” Livesey said.