New Washington Nationals’ bench coach Chip Hale spent the 2017 campaign coaching third base in Oakland after two seasons as the Arizona Diamondbacks’ manager (2015- 16). Before that, the 52-year-old was Bob Melvin’s bench coach with the Oakland A’s (2012-14), which followed stints as the New York Mets’ third base coach (2010-11), and D-Backs’ third base coach (2007-09).
Prior to that, Hale spent six seasons as a manager in Arizona’s Minor League system. So how did he make the decision to join a rookie manager as Dave Martinez’s bench coach in the nation’s capital?
“Davey contacted me,” Hale told MLB Network Radio hosts Ryan Spilborghs and C.J. Nitkowski on Saturday afternoon.
“I was going to go back as the third base with Oakland, and that gave the opportunity for a bench coach promotion. Davey contacted me, we met and had a great meeting, and [I’m] excited, you know, this is a guy who really deserves this opportunity. You talk about sometimes when managers get jobs you sort of scratch your head on like what experience they have. Well, this guy sat next to Joe Maddon for years and bided his time, and what an opportunity he’s going to get. So I’ll do anything I can to help him and help this club and get to the World Series.”
Martinez spent ten years as Maddon’s bench coach in Tampa Bay and Chicago before landing the gig in D.C., after interviewing for a number of managerial openings over the last few years.
Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo told reporters following Martinez’s introductory press conference that he didn’t think of the first-time skipper as a rookie manager.
"The only thing 'first time' about Davey [is that] he's never had the title 'manager,'" Rizzo explained.
"He's been managing games and standing next to one of the best and brightest guys in any dugout. I don't see this as your typical rookie manager who hasn't managed before. He's never had the title of manager but he's really done most of the job that a manager has to do. He's very prepared for it and I think it's going to be a comfortable transition for him."
Hale said Saturday that he’ll be around to help Martinez in any way he can, though he too thinks the new manager is perfectly capable of doing the job.
“Whatever he needs,” Hale said. “Obviously in-game stuff, we’ll have a template that we’ll go by and see what our eyes are looking at during the game, but just having done it and knowing what to expect I can help him in that way. But he’s done it.
“I always said this when I got the job in Arizona, I’d sat behind Bob Melvin for so long — you manage the game as the bench coach just like the manager does.
“So Davey has done this for a long time. It’s relationship-building that is probably the most important thing now in the game. These guys come to the big leagues — especially this ballclub — this ballclub in Washington is very, very talented, so we just have to have everybody on the same page, and as the bench coach you sort of are that conduit in the clubhouse for the manager.
“It’s hard,” Hale continued.
“As the manager you’re dealing with the front office constantly, you’re dealing with the media, and so the bench coach can kind of get in there in the clubhouse and help you spread the message.”
As for what advice he has for Martinez, Hale said the most difficult part of the job is often what a manager has to do outside of the actual games, especially dealing with the media.
Was he surprised by the demands on a manager when he got his first big league gig?
“I don’t know if it was you didn’t see it coming,” Hale said, “... because I was always, especially when I went to Arizona in the big leagues, I managed through the minor leagues, and to watch Bob Melvin handle the media, you think you’re prepared for all that stuff, but you meet with them twice a day, you have a pregame press conference, you have a post game, and just the ability not to get frustrated with questions, because you forget, those guys are trying to do a job, and there was just those few times my first year that I would get frustrated maybe, didn’t answer — you think back to the answers you gave and you just should have been a little more respectful of what they’re doing. At times you get a little bit short with them, so I think that was probably the toughest thing.
“The players, the communication part of it, and watching players grow, and get better, that’s just coaching and teaching, that’s the fun part. I always felt like, and I say this to guys all the time, and I told Davey this, when I’m a coach, especially the bench coach, you feel worse after a loss than you do as a manager, because as a manager you are making the final decisions, and you feel comfortable — even if it doesn’t work out, you feel comfortable with your decisions. As a coach, whatever position it is, third base too, if you send a runner, or maybe you could have given the manager some different advice that would have worked, it’s a little bit of Monday morning quarterbacking, but you feel worse because you didn’t have to actually make the final decision. So I always felt comfortable with the final outcomes of games.”
Martinez, Hale, and the rest of the coaches that have been hired so far (pitching coach Derek Lilliquist, hitting coach Kevin Long, first base coach Tim Bogar, returning third base coach Bobby Henley, and assistant hitting coach Joe Dillon) will be tasked with trying to get the Nationals over the hump after four postseason appearances in the last six seasons and four losses in the NLDS.
Hale talked about the unique situation he’s entering into, with a team that’s enjoyed regular season success but suffered postseason failures, and he was asked what the Nationals need to do to get over that hump.
“I asked [Martinez] that question flat out,” Hale said, “because I think what they did — what Joe and Davey and the rest of that staff did in Tampa just to get to a World Series in that market was incredible, and then obviously to win the World Series in Chicago, so I think he has some history with that kind of stuff, and sort of changing — I don’t know if it’s necessarily having to change a culture, because [this] team has been so successful during the regular season, so there are some things we talked about that were very interesting to me and as a baseball guy, these are things I want to learn too.
“I think the staff that [Mike Rizzo] and Davey put together has a lot of experience and it will be really, really fun to get it going with these guys.”