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Why DeMarlo Hale was one of the best managers I ever had — and why he’s a strong candidate for the Red Sox now

10.18.12 at 8:13 am ET

Without DeMarlo Hale, I might never have been a big leaguer.

The Red Sox will interview ‘D’ as their fourth managerial candidate on Thursday. I played for him for three years — in 1993 in High-A Fort Lauderdale, after I was drafted in the 10th round out of Providence College; in 1994, for a full season in High-A Sarasota; and in 1997 in Double-A Trenton — and I think the world of the guy. He and Eric Wedge are the two managers that I just clicked with, personality-wise. As much as I’ve been preaching that I think this team needs a new set of eyes, I have a hard time saying DeMarlo Hale would not be a good choice. I think he would be.

(Click here to listen to Merloni discuss this post on his show earlier today.)

When he managed me at the start of my career, I was always an older player for my level — 22 when I started pro ball — and so I think he always treated me a little differently. We always had a good rapport. I think he communicates with his players individually and gets the message across of exactly what he expects of them.

First of all, I would never question his baseball knowledge, his in-game knowledge, when I played for him. The minor leagues are a little bit different — where you have to get guys into games as a matter of organizational priority, and the manager is also the third-base coach, so he’s watching the game from a different perspective than a big league manager — but he was always on top of the game.

He always got his message across to the players, and he got his players to play hard and made us realize, at that level, what we were trying to do, what the goal was to get to that next level, and how we were going to get there. The years I played for him were some of the better summers I’ve ever had. We had great chemistry on those teams. We played the game hard.

There was a time in 1994 in Sarasota when he didn’t feel like we were playing up to par. He just put us through absolute hell for about two to three weeks — he called it two weeks of ‘Hay-ull’ — two weeks of hell. It was A-ball, but he kicked the crap out of us to the point where it woke us up. That year, we finished last in the first half and we won the second half in a landslide. We didn’t get much help in the draft — even though Nomar Garciaparra joined us, he was just getting started in the game. It was really just our team. We just turned it around. It was a credit to DeMarlo.

The two years I was under him, he got the absolute most out of our entire team, as a team and individually. Personally, he talked to me, built my confidence and let me know what I needed to accomplish and what I needed to become to get to the next level. As far as that goes, how that translates at the big league level — he was always a great communicator in the minors and I would expect him to be the same at the big league level.

One of the best examples of that came in 1994. It was my first full season, and I was playing second base and Gavin Jackson was playing short when we drafted Nomar. DeMarlo called me in and said, “We drafted Nomar — our first-round pick, he’s going to play shortstop everyday. Gavin’s going to move around and you’re going to move around. Listen, you’re a good player. If you’re going to get to the big leagues, it’s going to be because of your versatility. I think you can play third, and I think you can play short and I think you can play second.”

It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear at that time. At that age, 23, you’re like, “Screw that — I think I can play second everyday.” But he wasn’t afraid to tell me what I didn’t want to hear, but it was something that I needed to hear. And then he proceeded to tell me what I needed to do and how I needed to go about it to become a big league player: At third, here’s what you need to do; at second, here’s what you need to do. He gave me a plan in A-ball. I always thanked him for it, because that’s the reason I got to the big leagues.

I felt like he did that not just for me but to a lot of people. He’s not afraid to tell you something that, even if you’re not going to like it, you’re going to need to know. That’s why I’ve always clicked with that man. He’s just a good dude.

Even before that, there was a time when he had my back that may have made a huge difference in my career. Out of college, I played shortstop and third base for a few games late in 1993. In spring training the next year, the Sox wanted me to play second. They moved me and Bob Schaefer — the farm director — wanted me to stay in extended spring training, because he wanted me to work on playing second base. But I didn’t know anything about that plan.

‘D’ just told me, “Take off. Go to Sarasota with everybody else today.” And when Schaef mentioned it to him, he was like, “Lou’s already gone. I can’t bring him back.” Schaef was like, “Bring him back.” DeMarlo said, ‘I can’t do that — he’s already on his way.”

Later, he told me, “I knew you could handle it. I knew you could play short and I knew you could play second. Schaef wanted to keep you back here but I didn’t want that to happen.” So he sort of sent me on my way.

At that level, you go to extended spring training, pull a hamstring, get hit by a pitch, get hurt — who knows? You may never be heard from again. I didn’t have to worry about that because of what DeMarlo did for me.

On a small scale, that showed me something about who he is as a manager: He has strong beliefs about what he sees in his players, and the confidence to stand up to authority for what he believes. He’s his own man, with his own beliefs.

That’s important as DeMarlo interviews for the job with the Sox. He didn’t get an interview after the team let Terry Francona go in 2011, partly because he was seen as being too close to the collapse. So, after leaving the Sox in December and spending 2012 as the third-base coach under Buck Showalter in Baltimore, has he gotten enough distance from 2011 to manage in Boston?

That’s a tough call. That’s the downside to DeMarlo Hale right now in this process — is he far enough removed? Unfortunately for him, he’s associated with a team that collapsed. Still, there are some new faces as well as some guys who know and respect ‘D.’ That’s the interesting thing about this group.

If you want a little bit of comfort for the players and some familiarity, I think DeMarlo’s your guy. And, when it comes to the clubhouse problems in 2011, I still think that he’s his own man. I’ve talked to him. I think he understands that mistakes were made and that there were some things that could have been handled differently. The idea that he was looked at as one of Tito’s guys and he’d be the same manager I think bothered him, if that was the case. His job, to me, is to go in and let this ownership know that he at least recognized some things that he wanted to change, and that’s not how he will run things.

The tough part about this is that I want new eyes — that’s why I’m not even crazy about the idea of John Farrell becoming manager. I think he’s good, but I wouldn’t give up too much for him. Then DeMarlo gets in the mix, and he’s a guy that I respect the absolute hell out of. It’s tough.

To me, this year, I think, opened up everybody’s eyes that September 2011 was not a fluke. If DeMarlo felt that way to begin with, then spent a year away under Buck Showalter, I think he’s got a pretty good grasp of what went wrong, what the issue was and how to fix it. That’s why I still think that, even just one year removed, he would be a good candidate.

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