PHOENIX (AP) — Chip Hale spent 10 seasons in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ organization, the final three as the major league third base coach. He also played at the University of Arizona and still lives in Tucson.
If ever there was a perfect fit for Hale’s first job as a big league manager, it was with the Diamondbacks, who gave him a two-year contract Monday to replace Kirk Gibson.
“This is the perfect job for me and my family, and that is important for me to be here,” Hale said.
Backsliding since winning the 2011 NL West title, the Diamondbacks underwent a major front-office overhaul this season.
Arizona hired retired Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa as chief baseball officer in May, asking him to assess the entire organization.
He fired general manager Kevin Towers in early September and replaced him with Dave Stewart, who a four-time 20-game winner who pitched for La Russa while with Oakland. The Diamondbacks also hired De Jon Watson from the Los Angeles Dodgers to serve as senior vice president/baseball operations.
Their top priority for the new front-office group was to find a manager who could change the culture within the clubhouse.
Gibson led Arizona to a division title his first full season, but the Diamondbacks following with consecutive 81-81 seasons and went a big league-worst 64-98 this year.
Arizona hopes Hale is the perfect fit to turn around the franchise. He played multiple positions during a 12-year career that included stops with Minnesota and the Dodgers, hitting .277 in 333 big league games.
Hale spent six seasons in Arizona’s minor league system as a coach, earning numerous manager of the year awards along the way, and served as third base coach under Bob Melvin with the Diamondbacks from 2007-09.
Hale spent 2010-11 with the New Mets as third base coach and reunited with Melvin in Oakland, where he spent the past three seasons as bench coach.
“It was just the completeness of his background and the way he presented himself,” La Russa said. “We were looking for a leader and a guy who knew baseball, and there wasn’t a box that wasn’t checked.”
Hale emerged from a strong list of candidates.
La Russa was open about the process from the start, providing the names of all nine of the initial candidates. Arizona whittled the contenders down to four and chose Hale over former big league manager Jim Tracy, Triple-A Reno manager Phil Nevin and Cleveland Indians third base coach Sandy Alomar, Jr.
“We’ve learned that when you have a real good competition, the guy who survives is better off rather than somebody gift-wrapping the job and nobody pushing him,” La Russa said.
Hale had interviewed for managerial positions before and was turned down. When the job openings started this season, it seemed almost like an omen to him.
Hale learned to play in the big leagues under Tom Kelly with the Twins, who fired Ron Gardenhire.
Arizona was the place where Hale learned coaching, and the Diamondbacks needed a new manager after they fired Gibson. He ended up back with the Diamondbacks and couldn’t be happier.
“It was an exciting time to interview. I’ve done it a couple times, and really felt good when I walked in that room, like this is where I belong,” Hale said. “It feels good to be home.”