Dave Martinez’s playing career ended when he was 36 years old, after sixteen seasons in the majors. His final season as a player, in 2001, saw the veteran outfielder put up a .287/.347/.384 line over 120 games and 259 plate appearances for the Atlanta Braves, his ninth major league team.
Having wrapped up his playing days, following an injury in 2002, Martinez wasn’t sure what was next.
“I’ll be honest with you,” Martinez said on Thursday, as he was being introduced as the Washington Nationals’ new manager in a press conference in Nationals Park, “I played for a lot of years, retired, I have four beautiful children, I thought I’d be a good coach, but really didn’t know if I wanted to be a coach because of the traveling. Jumped in it, Joe [Maddon] called me up and asked me to help him out in Spring Training one year, and the next thing you know I became the bench coach a couple years later.”
Martinez’s relationship with Maddon, he explained, went back to his early days in the majors in the Chicago Cubs’ system, where he started his playing career after he was selected in the third round of the 1983 Draft.
“It’s funny that you bring that up,” Martinez said Thursday, when a reporter asked about his early days as a player and the mentors who helped shape his thinking.
“The first time I ever met Joe [Maddon] was in 1983 in the instructional league. I was just walking across the field, I was 18 years old, and he comes over to me and taps me on the back and says, ‘Hey, I really like the way you play the game.’ I didn’t know Joe from Adam, I was just looking at him like, ‘Oh, thanks.’ You know. We then developed kind of a friendship every time we saw each other.”
Maddon was one of many mentors who helped to shape the way Martinez played and thought about the game.
“I had some really good teachers back then,” Martinez said. “Jim Snyder. Tony Franklin. Jimmy Piersall was my outfield instructor. I learned how to play the game the right way.”
Piersall, who passed away in 2017 at 87 years old, was brought on by the Cubs to work with their young outfielders back in 1986, when Martinez made his MLB debut.
He told MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat this past June, that Piersall had a big impact early in his career.
"He really did know the outfield," Martinez said.
"He taught me well. He was really good. He said, 'You need to learn how to dive for balls.' For 20 minutes, I was out there diving for balls. He was really into it.”
Twenty years later, Martinez was given the opportunity to play a similar role for young players in the Tampa Bay Rays’ organization.
“In 2006, [Maddon] calls me up out of the blue,” Martinez said. “He got the manager’s job with Tampa and asked me to come teach the game the way that I played it, and I thought that was pretty cool.”
That initial opportunity with the Rays eventually led to his gig on the bench that got his second career in the game started.
“I did it for two Spring Trainings,” Martinez said of his role as an instructor, “then in 2007, George Hendricks got hurt, and I took over at first base coaching for him and apparently the players really liked me to be around.
“So after that year I sat with [Maddon] and [then Rays’ GM] Andrew [Friedman] over coffee at Starbucks for about an hour and a half, and I told him I had to leave, and Andrew says, ‘Congratulations, you’re the new bench coach,’ and I was like, ‘What?’
“And he said, ‘Yeah.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’ve got to think about it,’ and he said, ‘No.’ And so I said, ‘Okay, I’m in,’ and that’s how this all came about.”
“Since that moment, 2008 was my first year, we ended up going to the World Series and losing,” Martinez continued, “since then I really had the burning sensation of being considered as a manager one day, and through the process and preparation and going through all the interviews I’ve learned a lot about myself and my skills which led me here to today.”
Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo, who also came across Maddon early in his own playing days in the minors in the then-California Angels’ system, had his eye on Martinez for some time before he hired the former Rays and Cubs’ bench coach as Washington’s seventh full-time manager in D.C. on Thursday.
“Looking from across the field for years that I’ve watched him, first of all, we have one thing in common,” Rizzo said, “Joe was my manager too, so I know Joe very well, I know how he treats people.
“I know how he’s got an infectious kind of a personality, but seeing Davey from across the field, knowing him as well as I did, just the way he interacted with the players, the way he cared about people, to me what he brings to the table is he’s a perfect blend of the old-school, 16-year veteran who grinded out a 16-year successful career in the big leagues, and a creative, analytically-minded person that can put both of them together and really have the best of both worlds.”
“I’ve known Mike for quite a while,” Martinez added, “and this is a half a dream come true to me to be able to work here with Mike and the Lerner family and to see what they’ve built. This is just an ongoing thing that they’ve started years ago, and to continue in the successes that they’ve had and to get to that next level, which is win a World Championship here in Washington.”
Having spent the last ten seasons as Maddon’s bench coach in Tampa Bay and Chicago, Martinez was asked what he learned from the manager, and what he’ll bring with him in his new gig on the bench in the nation’s capital.
“Joe and I have been pretty successful together,” he said. “I really believe, why change something that really works. I am very creative. We shared ideas together. I’ll bring a lot of those ideas here. It’s a whole different team, it’s a whole different perspective here, so there might be little changes based on our players, but for the most part we’re going to be prepared, stick to the process.
“That’s the biggest thing that I learned from Joe, it’s a long season and it’s all about preparation and sticking to the process.”
That process, Martinez and the Nationals hope, will eventually lead to a World Series championship in D.C.
BONUS DAVE MARTINEZ ORIGIN STORY NOTES:
Dave or Davey?: “It doesn’t matter. When I came up to the big leagues — Davey came about — Harry Caray gave me that name and it stuck. It doesn’t bother me a bit, I’ll answer to both.”
Why No. 4 on your Nationals jersey?: “I wore 14 as a player, I wore 1 as a player. When we signed [David] Price, he wore 14 at Vanderbilt, and so he asked me if I’d give up my number, and of course I did, but they gave me No. 4. The way I look at it is, I have four kids and it’s like and it’s like my four-leaf clover, so I’ve been pretty lucky and pretty successful with it and so when it was available, I wanted it.”