The Nationals introduced Dave Martinez as manager at Nationals Park Thursday, a person General Manager Mike Rizzo describes as possessing the perfect blend of old-school and new-school mentality for the role.
Martinez, 53, interviewed for the same position in 2013, when the Nats were searching for Davey Johnson’s successor. Ultimately, Matt Williams earned the job, shepherding Washington to 96 wins and an NL East title in his first season, before missing the postseason with an underwhelming 83-79 record the next, his final year in Washington.
Four years and two managers later, Martinez finally had the right resume to be a fit for Washington, taking over for Dusty Baker, who won 95 and 97 games, and consecutive division titles, but was not brought back after twice failing to advance past the division series round.
“We talked to him four years ago and we didn’t give him the job,” Rizzo told assembled media Thursday. “And this time — and I told this to Davey when we talked to him the second time. I flew to Tampa and we had a great day together in Tampa, and I told him, ‘In my humble opinion, you’re much more prepared to be the manager right now than you were four years ago.'”
In that time, Martinez, serving as Joe Maddon’s bench coach in Chicago, went to the postseason in each of the last three years, first losing to the Mets in the 2015 NLCS. One year later, the Cubs did the impossible, snapping a 108-year World Series curse by defeating the Indians in seven games. The Cubs fell short this October, losing to the Dodgers in a 4-1 NL Championship Series rout.
“A world series championship ring on his finger. Deep into the playoffs each of the last three years,” Rizzo began listing Martinez’s qualifications. “Taking a greater leadership role each and every time that I was around the Chicago Cubs, and seeing how he handled things there. Taking his communication skills to another level.”
“Now, it’s not just this young up-and-coming team,” he said. “You’re talking about having to deal with stars — the Bryants, the Rizzos, and the Lackeys and the Lesters. So he’s got that. And I think the most impressive thing about it is, I’ve been doing this a long time — I know a lot of people — and couldn’t find one person to say a negative word about his character, and to me, that was what it was all about.”
Martinez is now tasked with getting a new team over the hump, a Nationals club with stars named Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, a group which, through various iterations, has collectively failed, after reaching the postseason four out of the past six seasons, to advance out of the first round.
In moving on from Baker, the organization made its intentions crystal clear: Anything short of a World Series championship is a failure. Martinez and Rizzo both preached this common goal in unison, a clear pattern emerging from the Nationals’ clubhouse (the first time this site has been used to introduce a new manager).
“I’ve known Mike for quite a while,” Martinez said. “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 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 the world championship here in Washington,” he said. “The one thing I have to say after talking with the Lerner family and Mike, we definitely have something in common, and that’s the desire and passion to bring a world championship here to Washington. And we’re gonna get it done.”
Maddon is regarded as one of baseball’s finest managers, and an early adopter of advanced analytics as a necessary tool to win. Martinez has been with the manager for nearly his entire ride to World Series champion, first joining Maddon as a spring instructor in Tampa in 2006, and later in the Rays’ dugout as bench coach in 2008. When Maddon left for Chicago after the 2014 season, Martinez went with him.
In hiring Martinez, the hope is the Nationals are getting a similarly minded person to Maddon.
“Joe and I have been pretty successful together,” said Martinez. “I really believe that, why change something that really works?”
“I am very creative,” he said. “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 gonna be prepared, stick to the process. That’s the biggest thing I learned from Joe. It’s a long season, and it’s all about preparation and sticking to the process.”
Baseball is run by long-stemming relationships, a truth prevalent at every level. And wouldn’t ‘ya know? Maddon was Rizzo’s first big-league manager, as skipper for the Class-A Salem Angels in 1982. That just so happened to be Rizzo’s rookie season — as a 22nd-round selection by the Angels — that year, and Maddon’s first managing the Angels affiliate.
Rizzo never made it past Single-A in his three-year playing career, but has maintained a relationship with Maddon ever since.
“We have one thing in common,” Rizzo said of Martinez. “Joe was my manager, too. I know Joe very well. I know how he treats people. I know he’s got an infectious personality.”
“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,” Rizzo said, “that 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.”
“You talk about creating cultures, both in Tampa and in Chicago, where they were very, very successful, and he was a big part of that,” he said. “Talking with Joe and [Cubs President of Baseball Operations, Theo Epstein], who could not have spoken more highly of this person right here, it was great information.”
Martinez was asked to identify the trait he feels makes him most suitable to be a manager.
“The one thing that I can tell you, I have a lot of high energy, positive energy,” he said. Sound familiar?
Maddon is known for his robust positivity. After leading the Cubs back from a three-games-to-one deficit against in the World Series, he shared his idea of splitting Twitter in two: “I really think there should be two forms of Twitter. There should be the positive form of Twitter and the negative form, and you have to choose one. And if you choose to be on Negative Twitter, then you’re not welcome on Positive Twitter, ever.”
“I’m not a guy that’s gonna sit in a manager’s office,” Martinez said. “I’m very hands on. I love talking to players. I love conversations with players. It’s my strong suit. I collaborate a lot with front office — Mike, ownership — to get it right.”
“Look, I meant this sincerely. This is a big family. We’re all in this together,” he said. “We all got to think alike, have the same ideas in order to really be successful, and I plan on bringing that and bringing everybody together as a whole. And, like I said, the ultimate goal is to win that championship, to bring a world title to the city of Washington and the fans who deserve it.”
“I’ll be honest with you, when I came here for the playoffs, this place was electric,” he said. “Even from the opposing side, my hair stood up to see how the fans were — all the red. I was jacked up about it. Now to be on this side, and they cheer for me and our team, it’s gonna be pretty cool.”
Martinez was asked what he observed of the Nationals — any possible shortcomings included — from the opposing dugout during last month’s divisional series.
“First and foremost, as you know, it was not easy,” he said. “We went to Game 5. And on the other side, I’ve always had a thing about never quitting. We preached that every day. It’s something that I’ll bring here. We’ll play till the last pitch of every game. We’ll compete every single day and we’ll win as many games — the object is to win as many games as possible, starting from Day 1.”
If there was a moment of symbolism to take away from the press conference, it came after Martinez declared his expectations.
“This team doesn’t lack much. It really doesn’t,” he said. “I think we just got to get over the fact that we’re not here just to win ‘a’ playoff game. We’re here to win the World Series.”
Sitting in the front row, Nationals managing principal owner Ted Lerner put his hands together in applause.