Ex-catcher, 34, takes over in Arizona
PHOENIX -- After firing Bob Melvin, the Arizona Diamondbacks have turned their fortunes over to a 34-year-old former catcher with no experience as a manager.
A.J. Hinch was introduced as Melvin's replacement as manager Friday at a news conference, where general manager Josh Byrnes acknowledged the hiring was "unconventional."
"He brings unique leadership and perspective to the job," Byrnes said. "We're not here to reinvent the wheel, but to change the nature of the job a little bit? OK, we'll do that. A.J.'s a leader. He connects with people. He gets things done."
Hinch, who has a degree in psychology from Stanford, was in his fourth season as the Diamondbacks' director of player development. He becomes the youngest manager in the majors since Eric Wedge was hired by Cleveland in October of 2002.
Byrnes, under sometimes pointed questioning about the hiring, said Hinch brings something he called "organizational advocacy" to the job.
Just how that will help transform the worst offense in baseball remains to be seen.
"It's a unique experience that A.J. brings as to how the team was built and where these players came from," Byrnes said. "Obviously there's a piece of experience he doesn't have. He's going to have to learn on the job."
Wherever Hinch has gone, Byrnes said, "players have gotten better, staff members have gotten better, standards and concepts have gone to a higher level. He's never done a double switch before, but he knows what it looks like. He'll figure it out."
Hinch, who gets a contract through 2012, was a collegiate standout at Stanford and played in the majors for parts of seven seasons with Oakland, Kansas City, Detroit and Philadelphia. He said he admired the way Phillies manager Charlie Manuel does his job.
Hinch has known most of the Arizona players as they worked their way through the minor league system.
"I feel a part of each and every one of them," he said. "I've been involved in different aspects throughout their career so far, and I think that's to their advantage and I think that's to my advantage."
The Diamondbacks also promoted Mel Stottlemyre Jr. to pitching coach and Jack Howell to hitting coach. Arizona pitching coach Bryan Price resigned and hitting coach Rick Schu was fired.
Melvin was NL Manager of the Year after leading Arizona to the NLCS in 2007. His contract runs through 2012. An hour before Hinch was introduced, Melvin appeared at a news conference at the ballpark to thank those who gave him the opportunity in Arizona.
"It's been a great run here, it really has," he said. "The best days I've had on a baseball field have been here in this ballpark with this team, and I think this is my 28th year in professional baseball."
Melvin was in his second stint in Arizona. He was manager Bob Brenly's bench coach when the team won the World Series in 2001.
"Bob has had the back of each one of us in this clubhouse since I've been here the last 2½ years," pitcher Doug Davis said. "He's always taken the blame, whether it was an error, whether it was no runs, whether it was pitching problems. He always had our back. It's like maybe we failed to have his back."
The Diamondbacks were 12-17 going into Friday night's game against the Washington Nationals, 8½ games behind the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West. Arizona's batting average of .222 is by far the worst in the majors.
Byrnes said the problem largely in the heads of the team's young players.
"This is the same group that, in many respects, led the league in wins in 2007 and 54 weeks ago was on top of the baseball world," Byrnes said. "I think our expectations shifted and we became the hunted and we didn't handle it very well."
He talked about restoring a positive attitude in the clubhouse.
"There's actions, there's vibes, there's `Hey, you're going to get this done," Byrnes said. "There's managers we admired who sort of give the vibe that `This is going to work because I think it will work."
Was that "vibe" missing under Melvin?
"I think so," Byrnes said.
Third baseman Mark Reynolds said he's known Hinch for several years.
"He's a big advocate of mine," Reynolds said. "He's kind of seen my career blossom from when I started going through the minor leagues. I've got a great relationship with him. He's young and fiery, and we'll see what happens."
Hinch said he's passionate about the game and, unlike Melvin, is inclined to show his emotion.
"I'm very strong willed in the decisions that are made," he said, "and then obviously I step back and observe those decisions and learn from them."
Byrnes said he told Melvin two days ago that he would be replaced, and he praised the manager for taking the team through its two-game series in San Diego despite knowing his fate.
As he departed, Melvin expressed optimism about the team he was leaving.
"Don't give up on this team," he said. "This is a talented club. They're going to play better, I guarantee that. There's no way they continue to play at this rate, there's no way."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press