GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Terry Francona first heard of DeMarlo Hale during his time in Philadelphia. The Tribe’s skipper never misses an opportunity to make fun of himself and laugh about his difficult times as a manager of the Phillies. During that era, Francona recalls, he received a newspaper one day at his home that praised someone named “Hale” for his tremendous work as a Minor League manager.
“Every day I’d see this Double-A team, Trenton, DeMarlo Hale, he’s so good, he’s this, he’s that,” Francona said with a big grin. “And I’m like, ‘[Forget] DeMarlo Hale.’ So that’s kind of how I knew who he was.”
Little did Francona know at the time that the two would go on to become close friends.
“[Comcast] called me and a few players down to Philadelphia,” Hale said. “[Francona] was going on [TV] at some point during the day. I was kind of uneasy, hoping that I didn’t run into him because his team was struggling. And I told him about that. We didn’t bump into each other. … But I laugh about that because he said we probably should’ve bumped into each other because then the relationship would’ve started much earlier.”
It was a relationship that finally began in 2002, when both Francona and Hale were on the Rangers’ coaching staff. Then, from 2006-11, Hale was on Francona’s staff with the Red Sox, including two seasons as his bench coach after he replaced Brad Mills, who had left to manage the Astros. Now, Hale’s replacing Mills once again.
“We’ve been together a lot,” Francona said. “I mean he’s one of my closest friends in the game and somebody that I’ve kind of looked at as a brother.”
Everyone knows how close Francona and Mills are, but when Mills decided to not return to his coaching role in 2021, Francona couldn’t help but immediately think of Hale. Mills missed the entire 2020 season after his 1-year-old grandson passed away last March. Mills decided that he wanted to be closer to his family, and the Indians are still working with him to find a different role so that he can stay within the organization.
“One of DeMarlo’s strengths, and he’s got a lot of them,” Francona said, “is his ability to talk to players and I mean be honest and almost hit them right in the face, but also have the ability to put his arm around them and [make sure] they know he cares. … I wish we had him and Millsy, that would be perfect.”
Hale worked with the Orioles in ’12 and served as the Blue Jays’ bench coach from ’13-18. Over the past two years, he served as a special assistant to player development with the Braves, overseeing outfield and baserunning instruction. This upcoming season will mark his 18th as a Major League coach.
Being a bench coach comes with a handful of miscellaneous responsibilities, but all of those become more challenging for someone in his first year with a new organization — not to mention navigating COVID-19 protocols. The club can’t gather together in large groups so as to maintain as much distance as possible and can’t really interact away from the field, so it’s more difficult for Hale to settle into his role quickly. But he’s doing his best to overcome those obstacles so far in Spring Training.
“What has been good about it is that I have been able to put faces with the names,” Hale said. “And being able to see the players that we talked about during the winter and seeing them in action. … The one thing I can say is that there’s been very strong communication through this process and I think that’s why we’re making it work.”
One relationship Hale doesn’t have to worry about is with his manager. The two have a brotherly-like connection, and if they already hold an extremely close bond, it stands to reason that Hale will easily develop the same with the rest of the club as the season continues.
“Well, it’s strong,” Hale said of his relationship with Francona. “And I think respect is probably the one word that I think would describe us. There’s a lot of respect I have for him and the things that he’s done. I’ve learned a lot from him when we were in Boston. … And not only our friendship is strong, but the professional side of it is very strong, too.”