Brewers’ exit puts spotlight on the uncertain future of manager Craig Counsell


MILWAUKEE (AP) — Craig Counsell grew up in the Milwaukee area, and his father worked for the Brewers. The younger Counsell also played for the team before he became the most successful manager in franchise history.

He has guided the Brewers to five playoff berths in the last six years, but his hometown team remains in search of its first World Series title.

Counsell’s remarkable run has reached a crossroads.

The Brewers’ season is over after they were swept by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL Wild Card Series, making Counsell a free agent of sorts. He doesn’t have a contract beyond this season and wasn’t interested in discussing his future after the team’s 5-2 loss on Wednesday.

“That ain’t for tonight, man,” Counsell said.

Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio has said the team wants him to stay. Counsell owns a 707-625 record, giving him the franchise record for wins and games managed.

“Craig and I spoke right around Labor Day, and we decided we had a chance to do something special this year, and we were going to just focus on that and pick up the conversation once the season was over,” Attanasio said before the Wild Card Series. “I think that conversation will be open-ended, and we’ll see how he wants to handle it. I think he has earned that right.

“Clearly we want him back, and we’ll see what he wants to do.”

Brewers officials have mentioned the possibility that Counsell might want to step away from the game and watch his sons play college baseball. Brady Counsell plays for Minnesota, and Jack Counsell is at Michigan.

There also is the possibility he could try managing a team with a higher payroll.

The most obvious example is the New York Mets, who just hired former Brewers President of Baseball Operations David Stearns to the same position he had at Milwaukee. The Mets are looking for a new manager after they fired Buck Showalter.

“I’ve been very consistent with where I’m at here and nothing has changed,” Counsell said Sunday after Showalter’s dismissal was announced. “I’m fired up for what’s ahead of this team and that’s the only thing I’m thinking about right now and care about right now. We’ve got us a chance to do something special, to make great memories, to change some lives. Why would you think of anything else besides that right now?”

This season represented one of Counsell’s finest performances.

Milwaukee’s starting rotation dealt with multiple injuries, and the lineup struggled to produce runs through the first half of the season. But the Brewers remained in contention while leaning heavily on rookies.

As their staff got healthier and the lineup benefited from the trade-deadline additions of Mark Canha and Carlos Santana, the Brewers surged and won the NL Central by nine games.

“I think this was a great bunch,” said Counsell, the son of former Brewers director of community relations John Counsell. “This was a great team, and I think I told the guys — I said, as you move forward in your careers, you should want to create teams like this. You should use your leadership to create an atmosphere like this. This was a team you want to be on. They celebrated each other.”

But it ended with another frustrating postseason.

The Brewers reached the NL Championship Series in 2018 and were a win away from their first World Series appearance since 1982 when they lost Game 7 at home to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Brewers have lost nine of their last 10 playoff games.

“The playoffs are a tough animal to conquer,” Counsell said. “They are. Unfortunately, we have not. We made a good run in ’18, and then it’s been some short series that we haven’t been able to get over the hump in. Doesn’t take anything away from those guys in my opinion at all. They’ve accomplished great things, and they should be proud that they’ve been part of it.”

The Dodgers and Atlanta Braves are the only NL teams to win more games than the Brewers since 2017, a testament to the job Counsell has done.

“We haven’t been able to take it the whole way and win a championship,” left fielder Christian Yelich said. “But being in a small market and being a consistent winner and having a good, competitive team every year that is either in the playoffs or missed it by one game last year, it’s tough to do. He’s a huge reason why this place is like that now and he’s built a great culture here.

“I love playing for him, I hope that continues. I think he’s earned the right to take some time and make a decision for himself and his family.”