CHICAGO | The same patience that Sandy Alomar, Jr. and Davey Martinez might have displayed at the plate near the end of the 20th century is the identical emotion they need when coveted managerial jobs are available.
Both Alomar and Martinez, with heavy Chicago baseball backgrounds and even off-season residency for the former, are in holding patterns as coaches, Alomar as first-base coach under Terry Francona in Cleveland and Martinez as bench coach at Joe Maddon’s side in Tampa Bay.
They should be at the top of the list for the next openings. Seeing the emergence of Jose Abreu with the White Sox – one of three Cubans on the roster – along with the ups and downs of the Cubs’ Starlin Castro, a manager who not only speaks Spanish, but also understands the culture is a necessity today.
With the Sox, Robin Ventura gets by with the aid of skilled interpreter Lino Diaz and a few words he’s picked up over the years, along with the Spanish cuss words he learned playing alongside Ozzie Guillen for the better part of a decade. But with about one-quarter of big leaguers from Latin-American countries and their command of English only on a case-by-case basis, the ability to bridge both the language and culture gap is crucial.
“It makes a big difference,” said Maddon, who speaks passable Spanish. “There’s such a great proportion from Hispanic countries. Just to be able to communicate with them, understand them, listen to them and respond to them, and (speaking) their language makes all the difference in the world.
“The guy that’s able to communicate in Spanish among these players has an advantage to possibly draw out the most of those players. It goes well beyond baseball. How they feel about the day. How they feel when they wake up. Turn on the TV set, they don’t understand a thing. It’s tough to order in a restaurant. It’s the most rudimentary things that we take for granted that to them are big crises when they’re in our country.”
The Cubs hired Rick Renteria as manager, partially because he was fluent in Spanish. Renteria also had a political connection with general manager Jed Hoyer from their San Diego days. But Alomar or Martinez might have been a better choice, with local backgrounds and institutional memories to complement bi-lingual talents.
Alomar is an ex-catcher, obviously knowledgeable about pitching who has settled into the area, living on the near northwest side of Chicago and shoveling his own walkways during the polar vortex. Wife Magred and family are Chicagoans. His father, Sandy, Sr., once coached for the Cubs. He interviewed for the job that went to Dale Sveum late in 2011. He wouldn’t have been a bad choice for the South Side, either. Alomar served three tours of duty as a Sox player in the 2000s.
“The question is not whether I’m interested in managing, but who will give me that chance?,” Alomar said. “I’m not a self-promoter. I’m not calling teams acting like I’m a desperate guy. I let other people tell me if I was good enough.”
Ex-outfielder Martinez was part of the productive wave of home-grown talent the Cubs developed under GM Dallas Green and scouting guru Gordon Goldsberry in the 1980s. Theo Epstein will be fortunate to duplicate their record. Wife Lisa grew up in the far northwest suburbs. Martinez had two tours of duty with the Cubs, sandwiched around three productive seasons with the Sox in the mid-1990s.
“I welcome all interviews,” Martinez said. “Eventually that’s my goal. If it happens sooner than later, great. When it does come and the opportunity arises, I’ll be ready.”
Martinez has had four interviews while Alomar has had three plus a “chat” with the Indians.
“When they’re looking for a Hispanic manager, put me in that line,” Alomar said. “Make sure I do that interview.”
Here’s where language command and baseball politics, as thick as the real thing, connect. Good luck to Alomar and Martinez.