Three years after Chip Hale’s seven-year playing career ended, the one-time Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Dodgers’ infielder transitioned to the coaching game, eventually earning a shot to manage at the major league level.
Hale’s first major league managerial gig with Arizona’s Diamondbacks ended after just two seasons (2015-16), then he rejoined the Oakland A’s as Bob Melvin’s third base and infield coach after having previously served as Melvin’s bench coach with the Athletics.
He was then hired this winter as Dave Martinez’s bench coach in the nation’s capital.
Washington’s Nationals, who parted ways with Dusty Baker after the veteran skipper won back-to-back NL East titles and lost back-to-back NLDS matchups, were just one of several teams that switched things up on the bench in spite of having made it to the postseason in 2017.
“We fight really hard,” Hale said of the fraternity of coaches and managers working for one of the 30 managerial openings in the majors.
“I started in player development in 2000 to get to the big leagues by ‘07 and manage in Arizona, and you feel like you kind of earn your stripes, and sometimes you feel like that’s kind of not happening anymore.
“Guys are coming out of everywhere to manage, which, listen, everybody is looking for an edge, they’re looking for the next ‘Joe Maddon’ and people forget that Joe Maddon was everything in baseball from managing rookie ball, to scouting to everything.”
When he referred to people “coming out of everywhere to manage”, however, Hale was not referring to Martinez, who is someone he said definitely earned the opportunity he has in Washington after serving as Maddon’s bench coach for ten seasons in Tampa Bay and then Chicago.
“We’ve seen it of late, where guys are coming out of nowhere to be manager, whether it’s out of the booth, whether it’s out of player development, not even coaching,” Hale explained.
“Here’s a guy [Martinez] that’s earned his way,” Hale continued. “He’s coached. He’s been the bench coach now for years and years under what we all feel in coaching and managing is one of the best managers in baseball, so if there’s anybody that ever deserved this opportunity, it’s him.
“There are going to be different things that he’s going to deal with with media, with front office, with ownership, with players, because as a coach, you have a little different relationship than you do as a manager, because it’s just the way it works.
“There are going to be some challenges, but if there’s anybody that’s prepared to take that next step, he’s done his apprenticeship I guess you could say.”
The Nationals have surrounded Martinez with coaches that have their own managerial experience and can help guide the first-year skipper.
In order to do so, Hale said, they will all check their egos and work as a unit to get the best out of the roster they’ve inherited.
“We have a group here that’s done — I’ve managed. [First base coach] Tim Bogar has managed. The ego part of it has to go away,” Hale said.
“One thing we’ve stressed, Davey [Martinez] has really stressed with us is not to be afraid to step across the line of — a lot of times you’re the infield guy and you’re coaching the base like I did as a third base coach — and that’s what you do, you stay in your lane, where here we really want — if Tim is coaching first and he sees something with a pitcher, if he’s doing something to tip pitches, tip going to the plate where guys are stealing bases against him, he can go to Derek Lilliquist and say, ‘Hey, this is what I’m seeing,’ or as a bench coach I can go to any of the coaches and not be offended by it.
“I think one thing in our game is — sometimes you’re like, ‘Hey, you’ve got to go the manager, go to the bench coach, then come to me.’ We’re not afraid, because we’re kind of all on equal footing, to go ahead and step across there and say, ‘Hey, this is what we’re seeing,’ and maybe you can look at some video and get better.
“So that will help. I think getting to know each other better, and just understanding that there is no ego involved.”
The team they’re taking over has, of course, won 95 and 97 games, respectively, over the last two seasons, and made four postseason appearances over the last six years.
Getting the Nationals to the next step is the goal for everyone involved, from the front office down to the coaching staff that GM Mike Rizzo and Co. have assembled for 2018.
“It’s a tough deal now,” Hale acknowledged. “When you get past the Wild Card Game you get four teams, and they’re the four best in the league, and last year those four teams were really good.
“So you lose in the last round again and everyone says, ‘Here we go again,’ but it’s not like you’re playing the eighth seed in another sport.”
Hale, Martinez, and the rest of the coaching staff are inheriting a team with big plans for 2018, and as the new bench coach sees it, they have the talent to get where they have failed to in previous postseasons.
“It’s an unbelievable roster,” Hale said. “It’s got veterans. It has a lot of young kids, and I think guys that are going to be really, really good, and you remember, I managed in Arizona, and don’t forget Michael A. Taylor beat my team two or three times with walk-off grand slams, walk-off home runs. He’s not one of the main guys of this ballclub as of right now. So when you have guys like that that are hitting in the sixth, seventh, or eighth, wherever they are going to hit, knowing they are game-changes, it’s incredible.
“Talent is what wins games, let’s face it. And there is enough talent here to win the World Series, so that’s what we’re shooting for.”
And how does he see Martinez working out as a manager?
“We talk about players’ managers, we talk about disciplinarians, we talk about all these things,” Hale said. “I think being with Joe [Maddon], he’s learned the game has changed a lot since we both played.
“He is going to be really good in the clubhouse, and earning their respect. Listen, we can’t hit, we can’t any throw more than in batting practice. We depend on these guys for our livelihood, and to get them to play at the peak performance they can.
“I think he knows, being with Joe and just kind of watching, he knows the buttons to push and the personal relationships that we all have to develop.
“You can call him a players’ manager if you want to, I think he’s going to be a little bit of a disciplinarian in there too. I think he’s got some toughness that’s going to be good, and guys are going to respect that. So just being around him the short amount of time that we have, I think he’s going to demand a lot of respect.”