A NEW ERA
NEW NATIONALS MANAGER DAVE MARTINEZ BRINGS RELENTLESS POSITIVITY
AND A CHAMPIONSHIP-WINNING MINDSET TO WASHINGTON
BY MIKE FEIGEN
Dave Martinez helped coin a mantra during his three-year tenure as bench coach for the Chicago Cubs: "Do simple better."
That may sound like a modest objective, but it's emblematic of the fresh attitude the Nationals organization ushered in with Martinez's introduction as the team's new manager on Nov. 2.
Martinez, 53, arrived to infuse a four-time division winner with a culture of positivity and, in the game's pressure-packed moments, the ability to teach his players how to slow things down and let success happen.
It's a formula that worked brilliantly for Martinez in his previous roles in Chicago and Tampa Bay. With his assistance, the Cubs won an average of 97 regular season games over the past three seasons, advanced to the National League Championship Series each year and won the 2016 World Series. Prior to that, in his seven years as bench coach for the Rays, they averaged 90 wins, advanced to the Postseason four times and won an American League pennant.
Martinez accomplished those feats as the right-hand man alongside Joe Maddon, who gave a glowing recommendation to Nationals President of Baseball Operations & General Manager Mike Rizzo.
During Martinez's introductory press conference, Rizzo said that Maddon referred to Martinez as a "co-manager" as opposed to just another coach. Rizzo added that he was highly impressed by how prepared Martinez was during the interview process and said he'd had his eye on him for several years as a potential leader.
"I've always admired the way (Dave) handles players, the way he treats people," Rizzo said. "Not only his baseball acumen, but the way he has such a creative mind and employs different types of ideas and information and puts them into a winning environment."
Both of Martinez's previous teams not only preached that positive mindset, they were armed with the statistics that would help give them the best chance to win each night even before taking the field. Under the leadership of Andrew Friedman in Tampa Bay (now with the Los Angeles Dodgers) and Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer in Chicago, Martinez and Maddon developed their competitive advantage behind the scenes.
Rizzo has overseen an expansion of the analytics department in Washington and hopes to see his team apply similar methods moving forward. Martinez is uniquely equipped to utilize that information while teaching the game and keeping the clubhouse happy, having played for 16 years at the big league level.
"This is a man who had a lot to do with developing cultures in very analytically-based and winning organizations, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Chicago Cubs, for years," Rizzo said.
That seamless blend of old school and new school approaches will be welcome in Washington, particularly if it leads the franchise to its first World Championship. Both Rizzo and Martinez expressed that was their No. 1 priority moving forward.
But before the Nationals are to take those next steps, work must be done to develop the trust that will ultimately lead to a culture of winning. Already anchored by a group of veteran stars that are as talented as any in the game, Martinez won't shy away from getting to know his players on a personal level. He specifically cited a conversation with reliever Sean Doolittle the morning of the press conference and tentative plans for a meeting with right-hander Max Scherzer in the near future.
Even after getting to know his players throughout the offseason and during Spring Training, Martinez plans to help foster team building during the grind of the long season by bringing more fun to the workplace. He cited a "Sunday funday" concept that would allow players to come in later, bring their families to the ballpark and eat breakfast together.
Martinez also said the incoming coaching staff must buy into the core beliefs he's bringing to Washington. He said culture comes from the top and everyone needs to be on board, and that includes himself and his staff -- much like how his partnerships with Maddon, Friedman, Epstein and Hoyer were so successful over the past 10 years.
"I'm looking for guys who are positive, full of energy," Martinez said about his coaching staff decisions.
"No negativity. This game is full of failure already … I want guys who are willing to put the work in and be positive."
As a constant reminder of that positivity, Martinez wears a white, rubber bracelet on his right wrist with text that spells out "NEVER QUIT" in bold, red letters.
"This is something I truly believe in," he said, looking over the familiar words, noting the bracelet was coincidentally fashioned in Nationals colors. "I started this back in 2015 with our guys. I always believe that in every situation in every game, whether you're down or up, you never quit. You keep going, you play to the last pitch of the game, the last out of the game. This always resonated with me. We don't quit, we just keep on pushing."
The mindset of never quitting, the belief that positivity breeds success and the aptitude to integrate advanced statistics all come together to form the type of person Martinez is, the type of manager he's become, and the type of team he hopes to lead.
It may sound complicated, but it's simple -- and as Martinez and the Nationals believe, it's better.