New 1B coach Steve Sax throws out a first pitch - Christian Petersen
The two vacancies on the Diamondbacks coaching staff have been filled. Steve Sax will be the new first-base coach, and Turner Ward becomes the assistant hitting coach to Don Baylor, a new position for 2013.
Steve Sax was a second baseman and the 1982 National League Rookie of the Year. He was a 5-time All-Star (1982, '83, '86, '89 and '90) during a 14-year playing career, mostly with the Dodgers (1981-88), but also seeing time with the Yankees (1989-91), White Sox (1992-93) and Athletics (1994). He accumulated a total of 1,769 career games, hitting .281, with 54 homers and 550 RBI. He was a team-mate of Kirk Gibson on the 1988 World Champion Dodgers and was on deck when Gibson hit his famous game-winning homer in Game 1.
Particularly significant to becoming first-base coach, he ranks 52nd in Major League history with 444 stolen bases. Sax swiped a Dodger-rookie record 43 bases in 1982, the 15th-highest total for a rookie in National League history, and was among the Top 10 there eight times in 10-years, from 1982-91. He reached a career high of 56 steals in 1983, and was second in the AL when with the Yankees, swiping 43 bases in 1990. Of course, the man he's replacing, Eric Young Sr., was no slouch on the basepaths either: Young had 21 more in his career and ranks eight spots higher, but couldn't seem to translate that into good baserunning by the team last year.
What's interesting is Sax's apparent lack of professional baseball coaching experience. Since leaving the game in 1994, he has done a variety of work including television analysis, motivational speaker and even an attempt to run for the Californian State Senate. He's perhaps best known for being a victim of 'Steve Sax Syndrome', when in 1983, he suddenly became affected with the yips on routine throws to first, much like Chuck Knoblauch in the late nineties. Sax made 30 errors that year - no second-baseman since 2006 has even reached 20. However, he recovered and in 1991, made only seven errors in 148 starts.
If the name Turner Ward rings a vague bell, it's because he was a small part of the Diamondbacks in both 1999 and 2000. He appeared in 25 regular season games for Arizona, hitting .227, and also in the 1999 NLDS against the Mets. Ward did deliver the first pinch-hit home-run in franchise post-season history, a two-run shot off Rick Reed in the fifth inning of Game 3. Ward played a dozen years in the majors all told, batting .251 with 39 home-runs. He has been the manager of Double-A Mobile the past two seasons, guiding them to a division title and getting manager of the year honors in both campaigns.
This position is new, having been opened up when the team reassigned Wilson Valera to other duties. As we noted at the time, Valera's duties were to "support the staff and players in all facets, including effectively communicating with Latin players, serving as a working coach with infielders, assisting with all pre-game and batting practice duties and charting and tracking information during the game." There has been a growing trend of late for teams to have two hitting coaches, though I believe MLB limits the number allowed in the dugout, so we may not see much of Ward. Random factoid: he was Gonzo's room-mate during their common time at the University of South Alabama.