One-time Campolindo baseball star Chip Hale ready for
his managing opportunity
By Lou Fancher
Asked by the Oakland Tribune in 2009 about being passed over at that time for the Seattle Mariners' managing job, Chip Hale said, "I know at some point I'll get my opportunity."
In 2014, opportunity came knocking.
Joining an elite group of 30 Major League Baseball managers, Hale was named the seventh Arizona Diamondbacks manager on Oct. 13.
Hale began his steady rise through baseball's ranks as a varsity player at Campolindo High School in Moraga in the early 1980s. Playing collegiately at the University of Arizona, he went on to a 12-year MLB playing career, posting a career .277 batting average in 333 games during seven major league seasons with the Minnesota Twins and the Los Angeles Dodgers. He later spent six seasons as a Triple-A manager in the Diamondbacks organization, 11 seasons as a coach -- third base, infield or bench -- with the Diamondbacks, New York Mets and, for the past three seasons, the Oakland A's. He said in a phone interview that serving in those jobs was "in some ways, just my boxes getting checked."
"When you go to an interview for the job of managing a baseball team, there are no outrageous or hard-to-answer questions. It's baseball, not rocket science," Hale said.
But this time, unlike the previous times he's interviewed for a top post (he lost out on a second shot at the Mariners' managing job to Lloyd McClendon), Hale felt "the comfort factor."
"They're asking you how you will change the culture, what kind of guys you want on your staff, if you believe in running pitch counts up on pitchers -- standard stuff. When you generate answers, the comfort factor tells you they're thinking, 'This is our guy, this is the guy we want with our club.' It was the same things as I've said in other interviews, but it just wasn't my time then."
Hale, who has a home in Tucson, leaves behind a father, mother, sister, colleagues and fans sprinkled throughout the Bay Area. But layered in the 49-year-old's ball bag -- sandwiching his 28 years in professional baseball -- he carries East Bay history he holds close to his heart. Cherished memories from playing ball at Campolindo and serving as A's manager Bob Melvin's bench coach during the 2012-14 seasons he said are pivotal points marking his career.
"Campo is where I first learned the higher levels of baseball," he said. "I had a good group of players around me and (coach) Don Miller led us through. He gave me my first opportunity."
As part of a varsity team that went on to finish second at the 1982 American Legion World Series, Hale said Miller was a taskmaster.
"He wanted us to be fundamentally sound, strong both physically and mentally," Hale remembered.
That team learned discipline and benefited from being seen by college and MLB scouts because Miller took them "all over the place to tournaments," Hale said. During his time as bench coach with the A's, Miller and Hale stayed in touch.
"He'd call me up and--no question--share his opinions," Hale said, laughing and recalling the times Miller disagreed with team strategy.
Hale didn't ask Melvin for advice about managing because they'd been talking about it ever since Hale was Melvin's third base coach at the Diamondbacks during part of Melvin's 2005-2009 tenure managing that team.
"Being the sort of junior manager, he'd tell me what would happen when I became the man who makes the decisions. He told me, as bad as you take a loss now, it'll be 10 times worse as a manager. So I'm waiting to feel that."
With the Diamondbacks coming off a 98-loss season, Hale admitted, he'll have to trust his gut, know the numbers, avoid micromanaging his staff and get his guys to "walk through the white lines" and repeat what they do in practice when the heat's on in the field.
Hale has contacted each player to let them know he's excited and what he expects for spring training. One thing he won't tolerate is a losing attitude.
"If you have a bunch of guys who are happy losing, you obviously have a problem. But creating a winning culture, to be honest, I've never seen it work if you don't win games," Hale said.
Managing the metrics, spray charts and the personalities -- you have to mesh it, he said.
"The mental part is as important as the physical part. Sometimes, it's just getting the guy to relax and breathe."
And sometimes, finding the sweet spot is simply a matter of having all your boxes checked.