With the decision to shake things up on the Washington Nationals’ coaching staff after two years as a group, and a World Series championship last October, Chip Hale, who spent the past two seasons as Davey Martinez’s bench coach, is moving back to third base, where he has some history. Hale, 55, has done it before, coaching third base with the New York Mets and Oakland A’s before joining the Nats, and he’ll be waving runners around or throwing up the STOP sign this season, when/if they play baseball this year.
Asked this winter about his style as a third base coach, Hale said your style is determined by the roster you have to work with each season.
“Your style is what your team allows you to be,” Hale explained, “so we’re going to try to get it in Spring Training to the point where they are giving us — me, a chance to send them. I mean, I’m basically just a stop sign if I don’t think they can make it or if they look like they are slowing down, so we do have some veteran players on our group, so we have to make sure we keep them healthy for the season, and I always think of that in mind, but as for a style, be aggressive as we can.”
As for an overriding theory of the job? Hale said he knows how important each runner and each out in a game can be.
“You get 27 outs in a game,” he told reporters. “I’ve said this when I managed, I said it as a coach, you don’t want to send a guy when you know the percentages are really against you in getting him — scoring or getting him thrown out at home plate. It’s the toughest decision because you have to put so many factors into it, but we’re blessed with good video equipment now that gives us a lot of preparation for how guys throw, where they’re playing in the outfield, so we’ll be as prepared as we [can be] for it, but that’s probably the toughest decision.”
The job, he acknowledged, is really a thankless one, where you’re not really noticed until you wave a runner around second base and go for third or you send them home and run into an out at the plate.
“I guess it’s sort of like a closer then, right?” Hale asked reporters rhetorically.
“You have a bad one you just let it go — and I always say, the longer you coach third it’s — if you don’t get anybody thrown out, after a while you start feeling like, ‘Am I not aggressive enough?’ You start getting to that point where, ‘Wait a minute, maybe I need to be a little more aggressive and push it a little more,’ but hopefully we’re in a situation, I think one of the big things as a third base coach is you try at some point in the season where your team isn’t scoring any runs, like, ‘Hey, maybe I need to get —’ and you do it and somebody gets thrown out. You just have to really make sure you just stay within yourself and what your team can do and your runners can do, and just don’t get guys ridiculously thrown out.
“And again like I said, with our older players we just don’t want to get them injured. We’ve got to keep them on the field, it’s really important.”
The roster he’ll be working with this season is filled out with a number of familiar faces and a few new ones, and Hale talked in a recent SiriusXM MLB Network Radio about the speed that players like Trea Turner and Victor Robles bring to the table and how he can make the best use of their talents.
“I think every team you’re with — whether it was Coco Crisp in Oakland, we had some really good base stealers in Chris Young with Arizona when he was a rookie, and with Trea and with Vic, they’re two different guys though,” Hale told MLB Network Radio hosts Eduardo Perez and Steve Phillips late last month.
“Trea, pretty much, if Trea goes he’s going to be safe. That’s just — he’ll either delay steal from first, he knows when he can steal, when he can get a base, and he’s going to take it. With Vic last year, even as the Bench Coach, there [were] a lot of meetings with Vic with Davey and [now First Base Coach] Bob Henley and [now Bench Coach] Tim Bogar with just trying to get him to understand the better times to run, when it was okay — if he was going to get thrown out, it was okay, as you guys know with the game today, it’s in the mid-to-upper-70% [stolen base percentage] everybody wants everybody to be successful.
“So we had to be a little more picking his spots to steal, but it’s a funny group, because you have those two burners, and then we have a lot of elderly guys out there that I’m going to have to be real careful with, because it’s more important to keep Howie Kendrick healthy than maybe try to score him with nobody out, try to score him from third. We’ve got to be very careful with some of our guys.”
Hale also joked with the MLBNR hosts about one thing he’ll have to get used to again after staying in the dugout as the Nationals’ bench coach over the past two years: Heckling.
The veteran of seven seasons as a big league player, and 14 seasons as a coach/manager is used to it by now, but it will take some getting used to again, especially with how close the fans are in many of the new ballparks around the majors.
Which team’s fans are the toughest to deal with?
“It’s funny because the division we are in is difficult with Philadelphia and of course the Mets,” Hale said.
“The Mets have gotten better — from the old Shea Stadium to the new one,” he explained, “because the lines — it seems like the fans are so far away from you when you’re coaching third base now, before they were on top of you. Philly they’re a little farther away, but they can get nasty there, so they’re tough ones. I grew up in the Bay Area, and I said this at the start, I think [2006-2007] was my first year with the [Arizona] Diamondbacks, and the Giants fans are really tough. They’re tough to deal with.
“Of course, old Yankee Stadium was a lot worse than the new one. It’s getting a lot tamer, I think people are becoming a little bit more politically correct these days.”