In 2008, David Ross’s professional baseball career was hanging on the brink. He was 31, and he’d only been a full-time catcher for two of his eight Major League Baseball seasons to that point. The Cincinnati Reds released him in August of that season, and the Boston Red Sox picked him up on a minor league deal a week after that. He was to be a free agent after that season. I don’t know what the market is for aging catchers with a batting average in the .220s is, but I can’t imagine it’s good. And I especially can’t imagine it’s good for a player with the reputation Ross had at the time.
According to the story Ole Miss baseball coach Mike Bianco told his team, then-Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein called Ross into his office and told him he had a reputation as a selfish player. Ross thanked Epstein, and then determined to change his reputation by doing three things, as Bianco told his team.
“He made a list,” Bianco said. “No. 1 on that list, to be more engaging. To look at his teammates, look at their body language. Were they quiet today? Were they happy today? Do they seem tired? Be more engaged with his teammates.
“No. 2, be more encouraging. It’s amazing that most of his 15-year career, he wasn’t a starter. He was a backup, and when he was on the field he was an energy giver, but when he was in the dugout he was on the top step high-fiving everybody and he was an encourager. He was their biggest cheerleader.
“And then No. 3, hold his teammates accountable. See, if you do the first two, if you engage in your teammates and then you show enthusiasm and you’re an encourager, your teammates will take your accountability because they know you’ve invested time in them. They know that you’ve focused on them more than you’ve focused on yourself.
“David Ross teaches us a lesson that being a great teammate is really a learned skill,” Bianco continued. “It’s not something that you’re born with, it’s something that you learn.”
Ross spent the next four seasons with the Atlanta Braves, then returned to the Red Sox, helping the club with the 2013 World Series. Epstein re-acquired Ross in 2015, and Ross’s final game, at age 39, was a victory in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series with the Chicago Cubs.