WASHINGTON — Dave Martinez isn’t content with just joining the club.
“This is half a dream come true,” Martinez said Thursday of becoming a major league manager during a news conference to officially welcome him as the Washington Nationals‘ new skipper.
Becoming a manager fulfilled half his dream. Winning a World Series would complete it.
“We’re not here just to win a playoff game. We’re here to win the World Series,” said Martinez on Thursday, echoing the underlying sentiment that led the Nationals to part ways with Dusty Baker.
Martinez called the Nats “one of the better teams in the National League” and even went so far as to suggest that he’ll take them all the way in his rookie season as manager. “I’m looking forward to working with them and being a part of the 2018 championship season.”
The 53-year-old Brooklyn native, whose family is of Puerto Rican descent, joins Rick Renteria of the Chicago White Sox and recently hired Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora as the third active Latino skipper in the majors.
“It’s gratifying,” Martinez said when asked in Spanish what it feels like to join Renteria and Cora. “There’s a lot of good Latin personnel out in baseball, coaching, in the front office, and it’s nice to be recognized. But I really believe I’m here because of my merit, not because of any race or anything like that.”
A former outfielder who played for nine different teams during his 16-year big-league career, Martinez segued into coaching in 2008, when he became Joe Maddon’s bench coach with Tampa Bay. That season, the Rays advanced to the World Series for the first time in franchise history. When Maddon went to the Chicago Cubs in 2015, Martinez followed him there as bench coach. Together, the two helped the Cubs win their first World Series title in 108 years. That success led to Martinez landing in Washington.
“This is the man who had a lot to do with developing cultures in very, very analytically based and winning organizations,” general manager Mike Rizzo said Thursday. “His resume is impeccable.”
In 2013, when Martinez interviewed to be Davey Johnson’s replacement in Washington, his resume wasn’t strong enough, as he lost out on the position that eventually went to Matt Williams. Four years, two NLCS appearances and one championship later, Martinez was the right guy for the job, beating out a pool of candidates that included former Red Sox manager John Farrell and Mets hitting coach Kevin Long.
“He has four years more of knowledge about being next to the manager,” Rizzo said of Martinez. “He was much more confident in what he brings to the table, rather than four years ago, a lot of it was about the process of ‘Joe and myself, Joe and myself.’ And this was about how he does things, and how he’s going to do it, and how he would do it moving forward. He took a greater role when he was with the Cubs. Joe Maddon, who I spoke to many, many times about this, he called him his co-manager.”
Martinez, who on Thursday donned the No. 4 jersey that he’ll wear in Washington, takes over a team that has won back-to-back National League East pennants and is expected to be a serious World Series contender.
First, the Nats will have to win a playoff series, something they’ve failed to do in each of their four playoff appearances since moving to the nation’s capital. The most recent heartbreak came last month, when Baker’s team lost in five games to Martinez’s Cubs, including a wild 9-8 defeat in Game 5.
It was the second straight season in which Baker’s club lost Game 5 of the National League Division Series at home. Eight days after that, the Nationals announced that Baker, who was baseball’s winningest active skipper at the time, would not return for the 2018 season.
The entire staff that served under Baker was not asked back, and Rizzo said on Thursday that no decisions have been made about the team’s new coaches.