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Thursday, February 22, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

WEST PALM BEACH, FLA. — Few rookie baseball managers have had as much on-the-job training, from so many mentors, as new Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez.

He is most identified with Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon, with whom he spent 10 years as a coach in Chicago and Tampa. But Martinez, over the course of a 16-year career, took notes and learned lessons from at least 10 different managers, with a few interims mixed in — including Hall of Fame skippers.


In the current episode of my “Cigars & Curveballs” podcast, hosted here on The Washington Times website and available on iTunes, Google Play, the reVolver network and other platforms, Martinez, 53, sat down with me at the Nationals spring training complex and reflected on his memories and lessons from those 10 managers.


AUDIO: Washington Nationals Manager Dave Martinez with Thom Loverro


Martinez broke in with the Cubs in 1986, and his first major league manager was someone who is primarily connected with the New York Yankees — Gene “Stick” Michael:

“The day I got called up to the big leagues they had a meeting. Jamie Moyer and I had to sit outside and wait for this meeting to get over in the clubhouse. We didn’t know what was going on. First thing that goes through your mind is, these guys don’t want us here. They came out and got us. It happened to be that they ended up firing Jim Frey. Then they had an interim manager, and two days later Stick became my manager.

“Gene was a baseball man. He came from the Billy Martin era. He was tough but appreciated the game and hard work. One thing that really stands out to me is that he was very honest. He would tell you exactly what he was thinking. He wasn’t going to beat around the bush. You always appreciate that. That’s one thing he taught me. He was a good, good baseball man.”

In 1988, Martinez would head north of the border to play in Montreal for Buck Rodgers:

“Buck was awesome. I got traded there and I walked into his office and he pretty much told me, ‘I love to platoon guys and you’re going to be platooning right now with Otis Nixon. You’ll get a chance to play quite a bit because you’re a left-handed hitter. Otis is a switch hitter, but we like him better hitting from the right side. That’s the way I do things. I like playing everybody.’

“I was good with it. He was strictly a platoon guy. That’s the way he liked to manage, and it was good. Once again, you knew what he was all about. I loved playing in Montreal. I enjoyed the city very much.”

In 1992, Martinez landed in Cincinnati and played for one of his most memorable managers, Lou Piniella:

“Very colorful. He was a very heartfelt manager. He cared about you, he sometimes wore that. When you were struggling, you could tell he felt bad about you struggling and he would try everything he could to help you.

“He came in one day and had dress pants on and dress shoes and he said, ‘I had a dream about you. Come with me, and bring your bat.’ So we go out there and he’s in his dress slacks and dress shoes and he’s flipping me balls. He said, ‘I had a dream you could hit home runs.’ He showed me what I should be doing, and I started doing it, but I didn’t hit very many home runs (Martinez had 91 career home runs in 5,795 at-bats). I said, if he had a dream about it, I might as well try it.”

Ironically, the following season Martinez played with the San Francisco Giants for the manager he replaced here in Washington — Dusty Baker:

“Awesome. A player’s manager. He’s a good man. It speaks for himself, he’s done it for so many years. I used to go fishing with him on our days off. He loved fishing. He’s a friend. He wanted you to have fun. We had fun and we had some pretty good teams out there.”

In 1995, Martinez joined that unique club of players who wore both Chicago uniforms, joining the White Sox. His manager was Terry Bevington, who had the reputation of being a tough guy:

“He was the nicest guy. I had him as a third base coach. Great third base coach. Then when he became manager, he tried to portray himself like that (tough guy). But always very respectful. We had a lot of characters on that team, so he felt he had to be that way to keep control of the team.

“When I was over there, he called me in the office and said, ‘I’m going to give you a chance to play.’ I didn’t get a chance to play much there in the beginning. He said, ‘You’re a good baseball guy, you play the game the right way.’ I hit .307 that year. I appreciate him for seeing that I did care about the game and did play the game the right way.”

Martinez became an original Tampa Bay Devil Ray, playing for the expansion franchise in 1998. The man with the unfortunate job of managing an expansion team was former pitching coach Larry Rothschild:

“It was a learning curve. I loved Larry. A good baseball man. Very knowledgeable. Obviously knew a lot about pitching. Very soft spoken. A really good man. I still talk to him.”

Then, in 2000, Martinez played for three different teams – the Cubs again, the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays – and played for three different managers in Don Baylor, Johnny Oates and Jim Fregosi. Oates died in 2004 of a brain tumor. Fregosi passed away in 2014 of a stroke, while Baylor died in August of multiple myeloma.

Martinez was emotional when talking about Baylor and Fregosi:

“Don Baylor was very quiet. Very soft spoken but what a great man. Cared about everybody. Wanted to do the right thing for everyone, not just for the game. But for people. And Jim Fregosi was … I knew Jim for a long time and respected him from the bottom of my heart. He once told me that he thought I would be a good manager.

Martinez finished his playing career in 2001 by playing for and learning from one of the best – in Atlanta for Hall of Fame skipper Bobby Cox:

“I was getting a little older and wondering what I wanted to do when I was done. Do I want to coach? I had no idea. Why not watch the man who has been to the playoffs time and time again? I talked to him quite a bit, learned how he treated pitchers, his role players.

“He told me…in the outfield we had B.J Surhoff, Andruw Jones, Brian Jordan. I come in there and I think I’m the fourth outfielder. He says, ‘Hey, Marty, I want you to know that you’re coming in here as the fourth outfielder, but you’re going to get to play a lot. Don’t think you are going to sit there for a week and not get an at-bat. Role players are just as important as everyday players. You guys get put in big moments. I want to make sure you are well prepared and when that time comes you’ve already had your at bats.’

“I played two, three, four times a week and came off the bench as a pinch-hitter. But I was ready to go. I was always fresh and didn’t sit for 10 or 12 days in a row. That always stuck in my mind. Over the course of a season, those everyday guys get tired and they need a break. The conversations I had with the guy, how positive he was every day. He never said anything negative to a player.”

Listen to what Dave Martinez says when he talks about his philosophy managing the Washington Nationals. You can hear the lessons from this long list of managers who prepared him for this moment.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays, available on iTunes, Google Play, and the reVolver podcast network.


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