Prior to the start of the season Cubs catcher David Ross announced that the 2016 campaign would be his last. Ross made his debut in 2002 and has played parts of 15 seasons with the Dodgers, Pirates, Padres, Reds, Red Sox, Braves and Cubs. In many ways Rossy is your typical journeyman backup catcher, very good defense and game calling skills and a lacking bat. Although in the middle of his career Ross did have two very nice offensive seasons for the Reds, hitting a total of 38 homers in 2006 and 2007.
But David Ross is so much more than the average backup catcher his Baseball Reference page would lead you to believe he is. Everywhere Ross has played, teammates, fans, announcers, and really everyone involved in baseball in those respective cities has raved about him. Many media reports indicated teams in the bidding for free agent Jon Lester were trying to sign Ross due to their close relationship in Boston. So maybe it was no big shock when the well-traveled backstop signed a two-year deal in Chicago about the same time Lester agreed to sign with the Cubs.
Of course, much like everything Lester-related last season, Ross was a frequent target for criticism in 2015. Not only can Lester not hold runners, his caddy is a second automatic out in the lineup. Or at least that’s how some of the more common complaints went. This season, however, the attitude toward Greybeard has changed rapidly and I, for one, love it.
It started this spring when newly signed Jason Heyward (a former Ross teammate in Atlanta) said he would pay for a hotel suite for his elder in every road city this season. Then Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant took time away from the souvenir business to start the Grandpa Rossy Instagram account, which is documenting his final year in the majors. Now Cubs fans are organizing an effort to vote the Rossatron into this season’s All-Star Game, though Ross has said he only wants to make it if his performance dictates the honor.
Totally losing objectivity for a moment, all this love and excitement for Ross is great. Sounds like it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. Ross and teammate Dexter Fowler even had a pre-planned pizza party after the Jake Arrieta no-hitter. Who wouldn’t want to go to that pizza party? I mean, all pizza parties tend to be fun, but a David Ross/Dexter Fowler pizza party would top the charts.
It’s become pretty obvious that I’m not alone in my affection for the aged field general. You see it every time Cubs Twitter explodes with joy whenever Grandpa Rossy delivers a big play at or behind the plate. Which leads me to one final point: David Ross is having a great season on the field so far in 2016.
Ross has always been an excellent defender and he still has a cannon behind the plate. So far this year, that strong right arm has thrown out four runners and picked off another. He has picked up Lester on many weakly hit ground balls, pouncing on them with catlike quickness and saving his pitcher from potentially iffy throws to first. Ross continues to be one of the best framers in the game and he and Miguel Montero have combined for a catcher’s ERA of 2.46.
That solid defense is par for the course, but the biggest change this year has come with Ross at the plate. He made a swing adjustment this spring to drive the ball more and is slashing .267/.351/.851 with 2 home runs and a wRC+ of 119. Those are impressive numbers for anyone, let alone a backup catcher in his final year. Now it’s probably a small sample size effect, but any power or offense from Ross is a very nice bonus.
Of course, the most important part of what Ross brings to the team is his leadership. The Cubs players want to win for him. After completing his no-hitter, Jake Arrieta talked about how he really wanted to finish it for Ross and how happy he was for his catcher to have had that experience.
Ross is two homers short of 100, and when he does it I expect his teammates and Cubs fans everywhere to go crazy. But more than a statistical milestone, catching a no-no, or making the All-Star team, the Cubs want to win the World Series for their de facto leader. I think we can all agree that would be the best retirement gift of all.