D-backs hire Sax, Ward to finalize coaching staff
Former players to serve as first-base, assistant hitting coaches, respectively
PHOENIX -- The D-backs filled out their coaching staff for 2013 on Wednesday by hiring former big league players Steve Sax and Turner Ward.
Sax will coach first base, while Ward was hired to fill the newly created position of assistant hitting coach and will work under Don Baylor.
Sax, who replaces Eric Young, was a teammate of Arizona manager Kirk Gibson's on the 1988 World Series champion Dodgers. He spent eight seasons with the Dodgers, and over his 14-year career compiled a slash line of .281/.335/.358.
This will be Sax's first coaching job. After retiring as a player in 1994, he has worked in finance and made some television appearances. He recently authored "Shift," a motivational book, and has become a motivational speaker.
"I can't even put into words how happy I am," Sax said. "This is like a dream come true. I've been thinking about this for a number of years."
One of Young's responsibilities that Sax will now assume is baserunning, something on which Gibson places a strong emphasis and an area that the D-backs struggled in last year.
"We want to be more successful when we go, not only in stolen bases, but when we're trying to advance," Gibson said. "We want to be aggressive -- we want to pressure our opponent, there's no denying that part -- but at the same time, you've got to make it."
In 622 career stolen-base attempts, Sax was successful 444 times -- a 71 percent mark.
Sax was chosen over Triple-A Reno manager and longtime big leaguer Brett Butler.
"When it came down to it, it was a tough decision, a hard decision, because we think the world of Brett Butler," D-backs general manager Kevin Towers said. "But ultimately we felt like Saxy was the best guy for our staff right now. I would imagine our baserunners would probably attack baserunning just like the energy he brings to the ballpark each and every day."
Sax was a late entry into the interview process. He was at the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn., earlier this month where he met with some teams to express his interest in getting back into baseball.
Gibson spent an entire day with Sax the week after the Meetings, and Towers then met with him as well.
While he lacks experience coaching in baseball, Sax said that his experience coaching individuals in their personal and business endeavors would help.
"It's all kind of interrelated when you think about working with people and trying to raise people's bar of expectancy to another level," Sax said. "That's what I was doing in the private sector, but always thinking about getting back into baseball, and this was just the right time for me."
Ward has spent four seasons in the D-backs' organization, the previous two as manager of Double-A Mobile, where he led the BayBears to back-to-back Southern League titles.
Ward and his wife, Donna, make their home in the Mobile area, and he was initially unsure she would want to make a move.
"My wife, she asked me one day, 'When are you going to get back to the big leagues?'" Ward said. "When my family was all aboard, I am. There's nothing better than coaching the best players in the world, so I'm excited to be a part of it."
Gibson had Ward spend most of the month of September with the big league club, and with locker space at a premium, he shared his manager's office with Ward.
"A ton of integrity, he's a good man, I can tell he cares not only about the game of baseball, but about his players," Gibson said. "I watched in September the way people reacted to him, the way he engaged them."
Ward spent parts of 12 seasons as an outfielder in the big leagues with the Indians, Blue Jays, Brewers, Pirates and Phillies. He also spent two seasons, making 85 plate appearances, with the D-backs in 1999 and 2000. In 1,790 career plate appearances, he compiled a .251/.332/.388 mark.
"Don is easy to get along with," Ward said of Baylor. "He's going to be great to work with, and I know that we'll be on the same page in trying to reach the ultimate goal of helping these guys be better at what they do. That's the main thing for me, just being available and just being a second set of eyes."