PHOENIX — Steve Sax was on deck when Kirk Gibson hit the walk-off World Series home run that won Game 1 of the 1988 World Series and still commands a thunderous response every time the highlight is shown in Dodger Stadium. Now they are together again, with only a slight shift in positioning.
Gibson hired Sax on Wednesday to be the Diamondbacks’ first-base coach, replacing Eric Young, and also announced the promotion of Turner Ward to the position of assistant hitting coach under Don Baylor. Ward managed Class AA Mobile to Southern League championships the last two seasons after taking over in 2011.
The D-backs were extremely disappointed in the performance of their running game last season — Gibson called it “brutal” the final week of the season — and would like to get it back on track. The D-backs had 93 stolen bases but were caught 51 times, and they also ran into outs on the bases trying to force things that were not there.
“We have to be much better there. That falls on me,” Gibson said at the time.
Gibson likes to be aggressive, and so, too, does his new first-base coach. Sax had 442 stolen bases in his 14-year playing career, including a career-high 53 in 1983, the year after he was named the National League Rookie of the Year. He was successful on 71 percent of his stolen-base attempts, the exact percentage the D-backs posted when they were second in the NL with 133 stolen bases in 2011. They were at 65 percent last season.
Sax, 52, was a five-time All-Star, three times with the Dodgers and twice with the Yankees, for whom he played from 1989-91. He also played two seasons with the White Sox and one with the Athletics. He has been out of baseball since his retirement, serving as a motivational speaker. He also has been a personal coach for business executives.
Ward, 47, was a two-time Southern League manager of the year at Mobile, his hometown. The BayBears were Baseball America’s 2011 minor league team of the year for their 84-54 record. He has spent four years in the organization after spending all or parts of 12 seasons as a player in the majors, including a stint with the D-backs in 1999-2000.
Ward hit the last two homers of his major league career with the D-backs in September 1999 after signing in mid-August. The first homer keyed a rally from a 4-1, sixth-inning deficit in an 8-7 victory over the Marlins and gave the D-backs an eight-game lead in the NL West with 13 games to play. The D-backs clinched their first division pennant five days later.
The rest of Gibson’s staff remains the same going into the 2013 season: bench coach Alan Trammell, third-base coach Matt Williams, pitching coach Charles Nagy and bullpen/catching coach Glenn Sherlock.