SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — New Diamondbacks utility man Eric Hinske is already among a relatively exclusive group of major league players to win a World Series with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees — company that includes Babe Ruth.
But if Hinske can help the D-backs reach the World Series this season, he’d join even more exclusive company by tying Lonnie Smith for most (four) World Series appearances with different teams.
Footnotes and records aside, Hinske provides the D-backs with an experienced winner the team hopes can be a valuable asset on the field and in the clubhouse.
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“He works hard, he’s been highly successful, he’s been on highly successful teams,” manager Kirk Gibson said. “And he knows how to have fun, for sure.”
Hinske, 35, signed a one-year deal with the D-backs this winter after three seasons in Atlanta. Before that the 2002 AL Rookie of the Year appeared in World Series with the Red Sox (2007), Rays (2008) and Yankees (2009). He also went to the playoffs with the Braves in 2010.
While the D-backs addressed a need for a left-handed bat off the bench, they also added Hinske with the belief he knows what it takes to win. He’s been all the way three times. The hope is that his experience on winning teams spreads through the clubhouse.
So what’s the secret?
“All good teams have talent, that’s the bottom line, but the one thing you need is chemistry,” Hinske said. “You need to have fun in the clubhouse, have fun in other cities on the road. You’ve got to want to like the guy next to you. You see a lot of teams that have a lot of talent but don’t win because guys are playing for themselves or their numbers or whatnot.”
A well-traveled veteran like Hinske is typically a good way improve team chemistry, something the D-backs seemed to lack at times last year. Hinske cited Jason Varitek with the Red Sox and Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada with the Yankees as the kinds of veteran leaders that can have a far-reaching impact in a clubhouse. While his role with the D-backs won’t be as prominent as those guys, Hinske might be able to provide the same type of leadership.
“Veteran leadership is big in every clubhouse, and every good team I’ve been on they had that,” Hinske said. “Dudes that have just been around and you can follow their lead and listen to them. Hopefully that’s what I’m bringing here as a guy that’s been with different organization and won and knows what it takes to win.”
Gibson particularly likes that Hinske has experienced the ups and downs of a season that lasts late into October. The same goes for Cody Ross. That kind of experience could help what’s a relatively young D-backs team withstand streaks and slumps.
From that experience, Hinske also gives the D-backs a pinch-hitter that’s been in plenty of tight spots, where Gibson thinks the D-backs struggled in 2012.
“We weren’t very good last year when we got behind,” Gibson said. “We weren’t very good pinch-hitting, weren’t very good in late and close situations, high-leverage situations. The thought is that when you get veteran guys they have a better understanding of what the situation calls for, a little craftier with the situation. We need that.”
Hinske understands that’s part of his role with the D-backs. He also understands he’s not going to play everyday. He’ll get plenty of pinch-hit at-bats and the occasional start when first baseman Paul Goldschmidt needs a day off. Last season, Hinske hit a career-low .197 while getting fewer plate appearances (147) than any season in his career. Barring injuries, he probably won’t get more with the D-backs.
As much as Hinske enjoys winning — and he’s done it plenty — it’s the camaraderie and chemistry he enjoys most and the thing he hopes to most impact.
“Of course winning is the best part, but having relationships, meeting some of your friends, that’s stuff you’ll never forget about,” Hinske said. “When you’re getting along in here and having a good time, it translates to wins on the field for sure.”