Anger. Hurt. Shock. Disgust. Disappointment. Betrayal. There's a range of words that Brewers fans are using to describe their feelings after manager Craig Counsell made the decision on Monday to leave his hometown team to manage Milwaukee's bitter rival, the Chicago Cubs, with the last one describing the pain the worst: betrayal.
Now that we've had a couple of days to digest and process the news and some of the dust has settled, Brewers fans still aren't feeling any better about the situation the Brewers now find themselves in.
This is just one man's attempt to put into words the feelings of thousands of Brewers fans at the outcome of this situation. Everyone feels differently, but there's commalities between them all.
It's a seemingly constant pain being a Wisconsin sports fan. Sure, every fan base deals with different levels of disappointment, but it just seems to be an extra layer of pain around here.
Everybody leaves us. We're just a place to most of the athletes and coaches that come here. It's just a job, just a place they are at. It's a stepping stone to somewhere bigger and better. Milwaukee is a small market, it's not big like New York or Los Angeles or Chicago, but it's ours. It's home.
Most of our sports heroes come and go, leaving for a bigger market without giving a second thought. Kareem Abdul Jabaar left for Los Angeles. Paul Molitor left for Toronto. Brett Favre left for New York and then Minnesota. Prince Fielder left for Detroit. Aaron Rodgers left for New York. Time and again, throughout history, everyone leaves.
Loyalty is a value that doesn't exist in sports much nowadays and we know that. Teams are not loyal to players like they used to be and players are not loyal to teams.
Yet loyalty is still a value that is instilled in us in this state. It's a Midwestern value that we all share having grown up here or just been here for any length of time. It's something we offer to others even without reason to be, and believing that when the time comes, that loyalty will be repaid. When that loyalty gets broken, it feels like betrayal.
The majority of the pain Brewers fans feel isn't from Counsell leaving, it's about who he left for.
One of the reasons this move hurts so much is that Craig Counsell knew that, understood that, and was a part of that, and still left for the Cubs anyway. It's not even that he left, it's not even that he took the big money contract. Fans were quite supportive of Counsell going out and seeking the best salary he could find and reset the managerial pay scale. The assumption was that whatever high bid Counsell got, he would give the Brewers the chance to match to return the loyalty shown to him. If they chose not to and he left, so be it, go get paid, we all would leave for bigger money, right?
The Brewers seemed to operate in good faith. They gave Counsell the space he wanted to think about things, they did everything he was asking, they even gave teams permission to interview him a week before his contract expired, believing that they had a chance to keep him and an opportunity to match whatever offer he got because, after all, he was one of us. If anyone would give Milwaukee that chance, it would be one of our own.
It's like when a romantic relationship is nearing it's end, and one person is getting close to leaving and the other wants to stay together and is doing everything they can, doing everything the other person supposedly wants just to try to keep things going, but mentally, they're already out the door and there's nothing that can change their mind. Maybe they leave, but if they do leave, hopefully they at least have the courtesy to not leave for the one person you couldn't stand to see them with, whether it's your best friend or someone you hate, the one person that would cause the most emotional damage to you.
Just anywhere but there. Counsell could've gone to 28 of 29 potential other teams and the prevailing sentiment among fans would've been "Happy trails, you'll be missed, thank you for everything". Just anywhere but the Cubs. Any team but that team.
Counsell knew that. He knew the Cubs would hurt this team and these fans the most. He knew what this rivalry meant to all of us. He's lived it. All the years of Cubs fans trying to take over Miller Park, the years of trash talk, the brawls on the field, the fake rain delays, everything. Yet he did it anyway.
It's not even that the Cubs were the high bidder, but he took that deal without giving the Brewers at least the option to match, and to top it all off, Tom Verducci reports that the Cubs were Counsell's "dream job". It was the place he wanted to go all along. Counsell's agent, who is from Chicago, released a statement with exclamation points in it. Exclamation points. Players sign $300MM contracts and their agents don't use exclamation points.
Dream job? For years, managing the Brewers was his dream job. He was "Born A Brewer" as the marketing video told us. He grew up in Whitefish Bay. His dad worked for the team. He played here. He's been here his whole life. He was one of us. In many ways he was the best of us. Making it to the big leagues, winning two World Series, spending several years of his career here and being a part of playoff teams and now managing several more.
Craig Counsell was us. He was every kid growing up in Milwaukee, in Whitefish Bay, in Greenfield, in Franklin, in Cudahy, in Waukesha, in New Berlin, in Brookfield, in Racine, in Kenosha, in Muskego, in Shorewood, in Menomonee Falls, etc. He made it to the big leagues, he played for the Brewers and he's the manager of our hometown team. He's lived out every kid's dream around here.
Despite all of that, it still wasn't enough for Counsell to stay, it wasn't enough to keep him from going to our most hated rival. The team Milwaukee's been "little brother" to for so long, the man who helped this franchise get over that hump and beat the big brother and dominate them for the past few years has now left our side and taken the side of the big brother. He's taken the side of the bully. The one you thought was your friend is now your enemy.
When someone who was one of us doesn't even stick around and leaves for our rival, it makes you wonder who will stay? Who will choose us? If one of us doesn't even choose us, what good are we? What do we have? What is our identity?
There's nothing Milwaukee can do about it's market size, they can't just all of a sudden have an extra couple hundred million dollars to throw around in payroll to put together a better team. Whatever faults Mark Attanasio has as an owner, he's not to blame for the situation Milwaukee is in as an MLB franchise. They're starting at a disadvantage no matter who owns the team.
Counsell says he wants a "new challenge" in Chicago. He had been taking on the best challenge he could possibly face, winning a World Series in Milwaukee, something that has never been done before. Counsell has been the best manager Milwaukee has seen in ages. If anyone could complete that challenge, it was him. Now, even he's given up on that challenge and wants a different one, winning the same thing, but for the rival that would inflict the most amount of pain upon Milwaukee if accomplished.
While Counsell says his relationship with the community may not have changed, the community's relationship with him sure has. To Milwaukee, Craig Counsell's name is now synonymous with Benedict Arnold. Mark Attanasio, in his comments after learning the news, said it best "Craig has lost us and he's lost our community".
Everybody leaves us and that feeling of abandonment has only been made worse now. Milwaukee's a blue collar town on the road to somewhere better for most that come through here. The few that stay, are beloved forever. Robin Yount. Ryan Braun. Christian Yelich. They chose to stay. They aren't even from here. They're all from California and they chose to stay here.
Craig Counsell, Milwaukee's own prodigal son, the pride of Whitefish Bay, the one man who was most likely to be loyal, the one with the most reasons to be stay, the man who was one of us, chose to leave and leave for the last place we could stand to see him. You either die a hero, or live long enough to become the villain.
Time heals all wounds, as they say. But this one cuts deep. The knife has been twisted in our back and dug in down to the hilt. It's going to take a long time for this wound to heal and even when it does, there's going to be an ugly scar that lasts forever.
You were one of us, Craig. Now, you're not. And there's no going back to the way it was before.