I feel like David Letterman right now, rattling off a list of the top reasons Bob Henley was a good choice as the Nationals’ new third base coach. But I wanted to add a few nuggets on Henley, and why, based on what I’ve heard, the former catcher was a smart hire by Nationals manager Matt Williams and general manager Mike Rizzo.
Full disclosure: I’ve never had an extended chat with Henley. I don’t know the man all that well on a personal level from my two years covering the Nationals, largely because in his time as the organization’s minor league field coordinator, Henley’s only real time spent around big league players came in spring training. In my two springs down in Viera, Fla., I’ve spent minimal one-on-one time with Henley.
That said, based on what I know about Henley, I still feel yesterday’s hire was a good one for three main reasons:
1. Promoting from within sends a good message
When Trent Jewett decided to leave the Nationals to take the Mariners’ bench coach job, opening up a spot on Matt Williams’ coaching staff, my first thought was that Williams would want to bring in someone that he was familiar with, someone with whom he had a good working relationship and could trust.
Most new managers end up hiring their own bench coach and adding friends and past co-workers to their new coaching staff, but Williams had not only been on board with Randy Knorr remaining on as Nats bench coach, he had also only brought one coach with him from Arizona - Mark Weidemaier as the Nats’ new defensive coordination and advance coach.
Instead of adding another coach from Arizona’s staff or going through his personal rolodex to replace Jewett, however, Williams trusted what he heard on Henley, and promoted from within the organization. This sends a good message to all the other coaches out there - those currently working for the Nats and those who might consider working for them in the future - that if you bust your butt and do good work, you can work your way up the Nationals’ organizational ladder.
Knorr was passed over for the managerial job despite being the top internal candidate and being heavily supported by many players. But even though Williams ended up becoming the Nats’ new skipper, he retained Knorr, promoted Double-A Harrisburg manager Matt LeCroy to bullpen coach and now has bumped up another coach from within the system in Henley. Believe me, that type of mentality will make talented coaches want to work for the Nationals. Guys want to feel their work gets recognized, and in this case, the Nats rewarded Henley for his 11 years of strong work in the organization.
2. More organizational knowledge added to Nats’ staff
Not only has Henley spent the last 11 years working for the Nationals/Expos, he has spent nearly all of the last 22 years in the organization in some capacity. After being selected by the Expos in the 1991 amateur draft, Henley went on to play seven seasons in Montreal’s system. He took a minor league managing job with the Expos in 2003 after his playing career came to an end, and has been with the organization ever since.
When the Nats brought in Williams as their new manager, they knew one of the main downsides to the hire was that Williams had minimal hands-on knowledge of the talent in their system. Williams might’ve come to his interview prepared and with a general understanding of the ability of the players he’d be working with, but there’s a difference between that and having personal experience working with the talent.
So what did the Nats do to help Williams make a smooth transition to the managerial job? They brought back Knorr, pitching coach Steve McCatty, hitting coach Rick Schu and first base coach Tony Tarasco. LeCroy has coached many Nats players in the minors, and now Henley comes aboard, a guy who probably has as much knowledge about the Nats organization as anyone on the staff.
Can’t hurt to add another guy who knows these players, is familiar with their strengths and weaknesses and is well-liked by the guys he’ll be coaching.
3. An incredibly well-liked, well-regarded guy
Ah yes, the well-liked part. Henley is just 40 years old. He doesn’t have loads of major league experience (just 41 games played in 1998), but he did play at the highest level, something that resonates with many players. Those who know him describe him as having loads of energy and being very positive, and he’s incredibly well-regarded within the organization.
Nationals front office staffers like Henley. The players that he works with seem to like him. And they all seem to respect the way he goes about his job and the passion that he brings to the field.
Can’t hurt having another guy like that around, can it?
It remains to be seen how aggressive Henley will be as third base coach, but I’m sure he’ll fall in line with Williams’ philosophy of pushing the envelope and forcing the opponent to make a play.
And given what those who do know Henley and his style have to say about him, I think he’ll end up being a good choice.