Craig played four years for Notre Dame while earning a degree in accounting in the traditional four-year time-frame. Asked what he planned to do with his degree, Counsell said, "Hopefully, nothing. I hope I'll be playing this game for awhile. I hope I never use it."
Craig scored 1260 on his SATs and graduated from Notre Dame with a 3.0 grade-point-average.
Counsell was born in South Bend, Indiana on Aug. 21, 1970—four months after the Brewers played their first game in Milwaukee.
In 1988, he had to walk on to the team at Notre Dame because the program offered only two baseball scholarships. They didn't have a spot on the infield, so Counsell played left field. He grew in coach Pat Murphy's program, becoming a pretty good third baseman, driven by the man who now coaches Arizona State. Counsell stayed at Murphy's house when he first got called up to the Majors, when he wasn't sure how long he might stay with the D-Backs. "A lot of my mental toughness comes from Murphy," Counsell said. "In four years of him busting my tail, he gave that to me."
Counsell's father, John, worked as the Brewers' director of community relations from 1978-1988. While John was arranging charity and community functions with the team, Craig was running around County Stadium. For a while, he ran the speed gun concession at the old ballpark.
"I kind of grew up around baseball," Craig says. "On weekends I was always down in the clubhouse. We got to be pretty good friends with a lot of the players and they had kids I hung around and stuff." So Counsell learned baseball the right way, from Robin Yount, Paul Molitor and Jim Gantner. Craig was thrilled when the D'Backs hired Yount as a coach for the 2002 season.
"It's almost surreal sometimes," he said. "If you grew up in Milwaukee when I did in the 1980s, and you were a baseball fan and a baseball player as a kid, Robin Yount was your hero. It's a little bit strange when you're almost a co-worker with your hero every day. But now as a player when you know him, you realize the qualities that made him such a great player," Counsell said. "The humility that he has as a Hall of Fame player, I think every day as players we're amazed by it. It's a great lesson for everybody on our team. It's not hard to retain that when you have a Hall of Famer on your team and he's the most humble man on your team. That helps our team, for sure."
Craig has fulfilled his father's dream of playing in the big leagues. In 1964, the year before the first amateur draft, the Twins gave John Counsell, an outfielder out of Notre Dame, a $10,000 signing bonus. His career lasted five years, peaking at Double-A in 1968.
But Counsell believes the reason he works so hard came mostly from his mother.
"My Mom gave me the work ethic. She grew up on a farm," Craig said. "My dad exposed me to baseball."
Counsell had a 19-game hitting streak end June 16, 1997 at Colorado Springs.
Counsell's first Major League home run was a grand slam on August 23, 1997.
Counsell reached the pinnacle of every player's career in 1997, his rookie season. He was the guy mobbed at home plate in the final game of the World Series, scoring the winning run that made the Florida Marlins World Champions.
Craig is soft-spoken and camera-shy.
Craig married high school sweetheart Michelle over the winter before 2001 spring training.
He had a career-best 13-game hitting streak end the last weekend of the 2001 season. Then, Counsell went right on cranking out hits, going 8-for-21 with 4 RBI, and being named MVP of the National League Championship Series as the D'Backs beat the Braves to go to their first World Series.
His D'Backs teammates nicknamed Craig "Rudy," after the movie hero who also attended Notre Dame and epitomizes perseverance, just like Counsell. Craig walked on at Notre Dame, where his father paid $27,000 for four years of tuition for his son. Counsell played left field, then third base, and finally shortstop for the Irish. His coach at Notre Dame, Pat Murphy, doesn't like to hear the "Rudy" comments directed at Counsell, because he never was a self-promoter. Instead, he was very quiet. "He was the hardest worker," Murphy said.
In 2002, Counsell accepted an invitation to fly in an F-16 jet at Luke Air Force Base. "As much as they say playing baseball is every kid's dream, that's kind of every kid's dream, too, to fly in those jets," said Counsell.
Counsell said he accepted the invitation through Scott Brubaker, the D-Backs' senior vice president of marketing and sales, as a publicity stunt for the U.S. Air Force. Counsell came through after several of his teammates declined the offer. Counsell was subject to a variety of maneuvers during a session that lasted nearly two hours. "It's fun to learn about the military and what they do on a daily basis," he said. "I definitely have a new respect for the pilots and what it takes to fly one of those things."
Counsell still spends his winters in Wisconsin, in Mequon, near Milwaukee. He has a lake in the backyard. It is a beautiful place.
Craig's favorites—Actor: Robert DiNiro; movie: Shawshank Redemption; TV show: Cold Case Files; Food: Italian; Music: Everything.
Craig and wife Michelle, celebrated the birth of son Brady Michael, May 3, 2003. They have two boys. And on July 26, 2006, the couple welcomed their third child, and first daughter, Finley.
Craig's teammate with the Brewers, pitcher Ben Sheets, said of Counsell: "He can't get enough of pro wrestling. He's always got it on in the clubhouse and tries to emulate moves. The chicken drop is his signature move. It's a leg-lock-to-the-forehead-type thing. I'm not making this up," Sheets insisted. (Molly Knight-ESPN the Magazine-7/30/07)
Om March 1, 2011, Counsell spoke out in support of union workers in Wisconsin who have rallied in Madison against proposed legislation that would remove some collective bargaining rights.
Craig grew up in Wisconsin and is a longtime member of the Major League Baseball Players Association's executive board. The MLBPA released his statement:
"As a Major League baseball player for the Milwaukee Brewers who works in Wisconsin under a union contract and whose right to bargain collectively is guaranteed under federal law, I support the thousands of public sector employees who are threatened with the loss of that right under recently-proposed state legislation," Counsell said. "These employees are real people with real families whose livelihoods, careers, and futures are being jeopardized. I urge the government of Wisconsin not to take away this most basic of union and human rights."
Dec 13, 2017: At the Winter Meetings, Counsell sat down with Intentional Talk and told an anecdote. Back in 2000, when the former second baseman was in Spring Training for the Dodgers, he was robbed of a base hit by Mets' celebrity player/country music star Garth Brooks. He was then cut the very next day. Seriously.
Counsell's 0-for-15 start also didn't help his chances of remaining on the team. (By the way, Garth went a combined 2-for-42 in three spring trainings.) Fortunately for us, THAT is why Counsell switched to using one of the greatest batting stances of all-time. He thought it might help—and it did. Counsell won a World Series with the D-backs in 2001 and enjoyed a very solid 16-year MLB career. So, thank you, Garth Brooks? (M Monagan - MLB.com - Dec 13, 2017)
In 2019, Counsell finished a close second to the Cardinals' Mike Shildt for the NL Manager of the Year Award.
Counsell was bidding to become the first Brewers manager to win the award since it was introduced in 1983. And he garnered more first-place votes (13) than Mike Shildt (10). But Shildt garnered more second-place votes, giving him the winning point total in a system that rewards five points for a first-place vote, three for second and one for third.
The final tally was 95 points for Shildt, 88 points for Counsell. (A McCalvy - MLB.com - Nov 12, 2019
1992: The Rockies signed Craig out of Notre Dame for a $5,000 bonus.
July 27, 1997: The Marlins sent P Mark Hutton to the Rockies to acquire Craig.
June 15, 1999: The Dodgers sent P Ryan Moskau to the Marlins for Craig.
March 16, 2000: The Dodgers released Counsell. Right away, he signed with Arizona. Diamondbacks GM Joe Garagiola, Jr. had played briefly for Craig's father, John, when the elder Counsell, a former outfielder in the Twins' organization, coached baseball at Notre Dame.
January 9, 2002: Craig signed a three-year, $7.2 million contract with the Diamondbacks that also has club options for 2005 and 2006 along with performance bonuses that could make it worth $18.5 million over 5 years if he maxes it out. However, on October 29, 2003, the D'Backs said they wouldn't pick up the $3.7 million option on the 2005 season. (He remained under contract with the team for 2004 at $3.1 million, though.)
December 1, 2003: The Brewers sent Richie Sexson, P Shane Nance and OF Noochie Varner to the Diamondbacks; acquiring Counsell, 2B Junior Spivey, 1B Lyle Overbay, C Chad Moeller, P Chris Capuano, and P Jorge De la Rosa.
October 2004: The Brewers declined to pick up the $4.25 million option on Craig for the 2005 season. Instead, they paid him a $250,000 buyout. And Craig became a free agent.
December 15, 2004: The Diamondbacks signed Counsell to a two-year, $3.1 million pact.
November 29, 2006: Craig signed a two-year, $6 million contract with the Brewers. Counsell gets $2.8 million in each of the next two seasons, and the Brewers get a $3.4 million option for 2009 with a $400,000 buyout. If Counsell is traded, he also gets a $2.8 million player option for 2009.
October 31, 2008: The Brewers did not pick up the $2.8 million option for Craig for 2009, making him a free agent.
January 23, 2009: Counsell signed a one-year, $1 million contract with the Brewers.
November 9, 2009: Craig filed for free agency.
December 14, 2009: Counsell signed a one-year contract for $2.1 million with the Brewers, again.
- December 20, 2010: Craig again signed with the Brewers. His one-year contract is for $1.4 million.
|Birth City:||South Bend, IN|
|Draft:||Rockies #11 - 1992 - Out of Univ. of Notre Dame (IN)|
- Craig has a quality at-bat every time up. He is not flashy, but he will get on base any way he can. He will let himself get hit by a pitch or wait out a walk. He is a true blue-collar player.
Counsell swings a decent bat, hitting out of pronounced open stance. He has an unusual lefthanded batting stance, with the bat held far back and high above his left shoulder.
But in 2008, Craig radically altered his batting stance, starting in spring training. Why?
"I hit .220 last year," he said.
Figuring it was time to try something new, Counsell spread out his lower half, trying to get more balance.
"I'm attempting to be a lot more still at the plate with my head and trying to stay under my legs a lot more," Craig said. "What I was doing was kind of high maintenance. When your playing time is a little more infrequent, it's even tougher to keep your timing. This is a little simpler. And in the end, it's a lot more sound fundamentally, really."
And in 2009, Craig really changed his stance, getting rid of his unorthodox batting stance, one in which he held his bat in the air as high as humanly possibly while also arching his back in a somewhat contorted position.
"Let's face it," Counsell said. "I didn't really hit the ball well the last couple of years. When they tell you they don't want you, that sort of makes you think about it more."
All hitters, no matter how they stand in the batter's box, must get their hands in the correct "load" position at some point to strike the baseball with force. As players get older, their reflexes usually fade, even if ever so slightly, making it tougher to get their hands in the right spot if the journey is elongated.
"I told him there's a reason why certain things happen," said Dale Sveum, in his first year as the Brewers' hitting coach in 2009. "I believe more problems happen for guys when they don't get their hands in the exact position they're going to hit from, when it's time to swing the bat. The more movement you have, the harder it is to get to that point. And we're talking about milliseconds to minimize that effort to get into that exact launching zone.
"The timing is so precise. Everybody has to get to their launching area, wherever that is on your body. When it's time to swing, your hands will try to get there. That's where you see a lot of foul balls, because they just miss getting there."
The lefthanded-hitting Counsell had gotten into a habit of "rolling over" on pitches and grounding out to first base, time after time. Sveum said there was a reason for the high number of "3 unassisted" plays next to Counsell's name on the scorecard.
"If you get a late start, that happens," Sveum said. "Weakly hit ground balls often are because you're late (getting to the ball). You try to rush to get there and you're late. Your hands are going to try to get there and then they say, 'It's too late.'" (Tom Haudricourt-Milwaukee Journal Stentinel-3/24/09)
- A slap hitter, he doesn't really have a lot of pop, but he makes good contact. He uses the entire field pretty well and can occasionally turn on a ball.
- A real tough out, Craig just will not give in to a pitcher. He works the guy deep into the count, fouling off pitches until he sees something he might be able to poke through, or over, the infield. Or he walks. And he walks more than he strikes out.
Counsell bunts well. But he doesn't have the speed to bunt for a base hit. He is perfect for playing hit-and-run with because he always get the bat on the ball.
- Craig is excellent at hitting in pressure situations.
- Counsell has always used a 33-inch, 31-ounce model bat.
- Counsell had a lifetime batting average of .255, with 42 home runs in 4,741 at-bats.
- A real blue-collar player, Craig is best-used as a utility man at the big league level. He does a good job on defense at any infield position, especially second base.
Counsell at one time had an occasional problem with his throwing accuracy, which accounted for most of his errors. But later he became sure-handed in the field.
Several years ago, Rockies infield coach Gene Glynn said that Craig just needs to learn to release the ball quickly rather than gun it through the first baseman's chest. "I have to show consistency on defense," Craig said. "I know I can play shortstop in the big leagues. I just have to be consistent with my throwing. I don't see how that won't happen."
- Craig has enough arm strength to play shortstop. But second base is his best spot. His range is only average, but he prepares better than most players, and his instincts are also top-notch, so he does a better-than-average job.
In 2002, with the Diamondbacks, Counsell replaced the injured Matt Williams at third base for the first half of the season. And thanks to his observing Williams, Craig's defense at third was excellent.
"By watching Matty, you know how important your feet are playing third base," said Counsell. "There's a misconception about just getting in front of the ball. It's not that. You can use your feet and get yourself better hops on grounders and in a better position to catch and throw the ball."
POST-PLAYING CAREER POSITIONS
2012: Counsell joined the Brewers front office as a special assistant to G.M. Doug Melvin.
Craig says he knew when he was 19 years old that he wanted to be a Major League general manager one day.
"I had a 20-year career get in the way," he said. "I'm excited for this opportunity," said Counsell, who will take part in player evaluations in both the Majors and minors while learning all facets of front office work.
"It's hard to make the decision (to retire), but in a lot of ways it was easy to make the decision. I'm excited that I don't have to get any hits anymore. That was a challenge at the end."
May 4, 2015: Counsell took over as manager of the 7-18 Brewers, following the firing of Ron Roenicke. Craig was given a contract through the 2017 season.
"He played the game with a chip on his shoulder and he played the game to win," Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said during a news conference. "He has a real edge for preparation."
A two-time World Series champion, Counsell scored the winning run for the Florida Marlins in the 11th inning of Game 7 of the 1997 World Series. In 2001, he was the MVP of the NLCS for the Diamondbacks, who went on to beat the Yankees in the World Series.
Nov 11, 2016: Calling it "the easiest decision I've had to make over the past year," Brewers GM David Stearns announced a three-year contract extension for home-grown manager Craig Counsell, who was locked up through 2020.
"We still have a big challenge in front of us," Counsell said, "and I feel like I get to see it through." (A McCalvy - MLB.com - Nov 11, 2016)
- Jan 8, 2020: The Brewers signed Counsell, 49, to a three-year contract extension through 2023. It was a widely-anticipated deal, since Counsell was heading into the final year of his contract.
- His first pro summer ended after three weeks when he fouled a ball off his left foot and breaking it.
- The same thing happened in spring training in 1994, sidelining him another six weeks. And he missed another month at New Haven with a broken nose.
- May 1996: Counsell missed a couple of weeks after he fouled off a ball that left him with a severely bruised shin—actually a stress fracture
- July 17, 1996: Just a few days after he returned for the previous injury, Counsell broke his right leg while diving into first base. The tibia was fractured.
August 3-end of 1998 season: Craig went on the D.L. with a compound fracture of his jaw, the result of being hit in the face by a pitch from Houston's C.J. Nitkowski. Surgery was required on his right cheek at Holy Cross Hospital in Miami. His jaw was wired shut and he couldn't eat solid food for six weeks. The force of the impact left the baseball's stitch marks on his face and produced considerable swelling and discoloration. Nitkowski became the third player in the 20th century to hit three consecutive batters with pitches.
The injury ended Counsell's season.
August 9, 2002: Craig went on the D.L. with discomfort in his neck. Pain and numbness shot down his arm. He received an epidural injection to ease the discomfort caused by the pinched nerve. But the nerve just never got better.
September 18, 2002: A depressed Counsell finally agreed to surgery, performed by Dallas surgeon Drew Dossett. The doctor went through the front part of Counsell's neck to remove the disk between his C5 and C6 vertebrae. Dr. Dossett used bone from Counsell's hip to fuse the area.
Craig injured two disks in his neck, but all of his neurological problems stemmed from one of them. Although he had confidence in his surgeon, Drew Dossett, who has performed several similar surgeries, including one on NFL receiver Rocket Ismail, Counsell still had a bit of uncertainty. "You always wonder any time you have surgery, but you know your body ultimately heals," he said. "My biggest asset is time."
- May 7-July 7, 2003: Craig was on the D.L. with an injured right thumb.
March 1-23, 2006: Counsell missed the first three weeks of exhibition games with a small labrum tear in his throwing shoulder—a SLAP tear, which is an acronym for superior labrum anterior to posterior. Players play with the injury, but it normally affects their play.
For a few weeks, Craig spent a lot of time to rest and build up the muscles around the tear as a way of preventative maintenance. And he received a cortisone injection.
- April 25, 2006: Counsell suffered tightness in his right hamstring that kept him out of the lineup.
- August 6-22, 2006: Craig was on the D.L. with rib and hamstring injuries.
- October 2009: Counsell underwent an arthroscopic procedure to clean up torn meniscus in his right knee.