The story of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ new manager can be told by the way others addressed him during his baseball career.
He was Chip, then Walter, then Chip. Now, he’s Skipper.
In an era in which many major league baseball teams hire recycled managers or recently retired players, Walter “Chip’’ Hale earned the latter honorarium the old-fashioned way: rung by slippery rung.
When the Diamondbacks named Hale their manager this week, it was the culmination of an odyssey that began at Class A Kenosha in the Twins’ organization in 1987.
More than 27 years later he called from his lawn in Tucson, Ariz., “laying grass seed, and listening to the ballgame,’’ he said.
Hale was close to going into the Navy out of high school when major colleges began recruiting him. He visited the University of Arizona and was impressed with the scope of the Wildcats’ program and with coach Jerry Kindall — a St. Paul native who played second base for the Twins.
Hale chose Arizona over the Navy. “I had no idea that I could ever make it to the majors at that point,’’ he said.
The Twins liked his lefthanded swing and drafted him in the 17th round. He spent most of three seasons in the minors before the Twins called him to the big leagues in 1989.
It was the happiest moment of his career. Then he met Tom Kelly.
“Tom was extremely hard on me,’’ Hale said. “He made some comments to me toward the end of the year, saying, ‘You need to respect the game a little more, do the right things on and off the field, hang out with the right people.’ It hit me hard at the time. But it stayed with me.’’
Hale made it to the big leagues for just two at-bats in 1990. After that, he didn’t return until 1993.
“TK made me a major-leaguer,’’ Hale said. “I was doing well at Triple-A, but I was at the end of my rope in terms of my career. I didn’t know what to do. TK called me in and told me about what he went through as a player, that he could never relax and perform as well as he thought he should have in the big leagues. He said, ‘I couldn’t slow the game down … that’s what you need to do up here.’
“The next day, I got three hits.’’
Hale became a pinch-hitter and virtual player-coach. Kelly even stopped calling him by his real first name, “Walter.’’
“Well … sometimes,’’ Hale said.
The change in Hale that year was noticeable. Jittery when he arrived, he soon became a go-to resource for younger players and writers. As a big-league coach, Hale has earned praise for his energetic work habits.
“I’ve tried to learn from everybody I’ve been around,’’ Hale said.
He mentioned minor league and scouting figures like Don Leppert, Russ Nixon, Phil Roof, Larry Corrigan and Scott Ullger. He has since worked with Buck Showalter and Bob Melvin.
The Diamondbacks’ new management team includes former A’s ace Dave Stewart and former A’s manager Tony La Russa, whose strategic duels with Kelly in the old AL West are legendary.
“When I went in, Tony and I started talking about those days,’’ Hale said. “I told him, there was no better place to learn to be a manager than in the dugout during those games.’’
Hale will be asked to revive a team that lost 98 games last season, while working for bosses with high standards.
“I think I can make a huge impact,’’ he said. “But not ‘me’ — ‘we.’ The staff we put together … I’m going to let guys coach and instruct. The first thing you do as a manager is create the right culture in the clubhouse. We have to be competitive with each other, have fun, and bring energy and accountability. Guys here have to realize that everything they do is going to impact the team.
“If we don’t prepare them properly, we can’t expect them to play well. It’s on us.’’