What is a bench coach in MLB?

4 of the 7 managers hired this offseason have experience as a bench coach. What exactly does a bench coach do?

Pat Murphy in 2018 as the Brewers' bench coach. (Jeff Curry/Getty Images)
Pat Murphy in 2018 as the Brewers' bench coach. (Jeff Curry/Getty Images)

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Four of the seven managers hired this offseason have experience as a bench coach, a lesser-known but critical role that has become almost a prerequisite for holding the top job.

The four new hires were made by the Astros (Joe Espada) and Brewers (Pat Murphy), who promoted their bench coaches; the Mets (Carlos Mendoza), who hired the Yankees' bench coach; and the Giants (Bob Melvin), who hired a longtime manager that began his career as a bench coach.

That ratio (four of seven) is roughly in keeping with the league as a whole, where 18 of 29 current managers were bench coaches before becoming skippers. And many of them found success not long after making that jump.

What a bench coach does

They are the manager's right-hand man; their lieutenant; their sous-chef. So while the skipper has the final say, it's the bench coach who's grinding behind the scenes to be the most prepared member of the staff.

For starters, they take care of less high-profile tasks like running spring training and scheduling batting practice. But their most important responsibility is tactical game preparation. Bench coaches pore over stats and data to know how to attack the opponent, and because managers are so focused on the now, bench coaches are often looking ahead to the decisions that must be made innings later.

They also need to be trusted communicators, acting as a liaison between the manager and players. There's a reason the fiery Billy Martin brought the affable Yogi Berra into his dugout in 1976 before "bench coach" was even part of the lexicon.

Notable examples

The first modern iteration of the role came in 1962, but it didn't fully catch on until 1996. That's when Joe Torre brought former manager Don Zimmer on board and they led the Yankees to four championships in five years. Since then, numerous bench coaches-turned managers have won World Series.

Dave Roberts spent two years as the Padres' bench coach before heading to Los Angeles in 2016, where he helped end the Dodgers' three-decade title drought in 2020.

Alex Cora led Boston to a championship in 2018, just one year after winning as the bench coach in Houston.

Joe Maddon won the 2002 World Series as the Angels' bench coach before taking the Rays to their first World Series in 2008 and ending the Cubs' 108-year curse in 2016.

And who was Maddon's bench coach in Tampa and Chicago? Dave Martinez, who led the Nationals to their first title in 2019, his second year at the helm.

What to watch

The Padres are the only team still looking for a manager, and they've already interviewed four candidates. Bet you'll never guess what three of those four have in common.