White Sox hitting coach isn’t going anywhere as long as Ozzie’s around
JOE COWLEY firstname.lastname@example.org July 16, 2011 3:52AM
White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker gets a lot of grief from fans but rarely gets credit for some of the team’s success stories. | Ron Vesely~Getty Images
Updated: October 29, 2011 12:35AM
DETROIT — Greg Walker wears No. 29.
It’s there, trust me. Sometimes when the wind blows the bull’s-eye just right, you can actually get a clear glimpse of it on his back.
Now, sit down and take a deep breath, White Sox fans. As long as Ozzie Guillen is manager and has a say on the makeup of his staff, No. 29 will stay on Walker’s back.
So all your calls to the radio shows, all your little posts on the fan forums and all the yelling at your dog (“Rex, you’re a better hitting coach than this guy!’’), go ahead and save it.
In Guillen’s eyes, Walker is fireproof.
“A lot of people talk about Greg Walker with Adam Dunn and [Alex] Rios, the struggles they’ve had,’’ Guillen said. “How about Greg Walker and Paul Konerko? How about Greg Walker and Carlos Quentin? Greg Walker and ‘The Missile’? They always look at the negative things in baseball, but the positives? When the player is good, they have talent; when the player is bad, it’s Greg Walker’s fault. As long as Greg Walker shows up here and works, I’m fine with that. He’s my hitting coach.’’
Walker’s reward is he gets to keep the most misunderstood and thankless job in sports.
Walker is the first to admit he didn’t see 2011 coming. The writing was on the wall early in the 2010 season that there could be some problems April and May with the guys who swing the bats, and Walker admitted that early on.
But this year was a blind side.
“This is a huge surprise,’’ Walker said. “It never entered my mind. You always prepare and do the work, but I didn’t see it coming.’’
A lot of sleepless nights have followed. So the fact that the guy in Section 121 keeps screaming for Walker to be fired, well, that falls pretty low on the Walker priority list.
“This game is so fragile,’’ Walker said. “You can sit back and say, ‘What if?’ What if Adam didn’t have that appendicitis [in early April]? But the bottom line is, we are where we are. The easy part is identifying the problems. The hard part is to get them corrected. I didn’t think there was any way it should have taken us this long to get them corrected. It shouldn’t have. We should have done a better job at it.’’
How, though? Fans measure hitting coaches by the numbers in the box score. That’s what we do with all our coaches because sports are a pass/fail business. But hitting is unique in that there’s far more failing than passing.
How did Walker finally convince Joe Crede to trust in what he was telling him? Failure. Crede finally gave in and became an All-Star. At the same time, how was Walker supposed to reach Nick Swisher, who had previous big-league success, when he struggled in 2008? Swisher would rather listen to his father, an old coach, anyone but Walker. It’s a no-win job, and the end finally comes through burnout or as the scapegoat.
The list of big-league hitting coaches who’ve had stellar offenses throughout their careers is a short one, as in none.
The true job description is motivational speaker/shrink because that’s what it comes down to. Hours and hours in the cage, watching video and being there to try to pick million-dollar psyches back up, and it’s all gone once the player enters the batter’s box and rests the bat on his shoulder.
But, for all the Walker haters out there, put down the pitchforks and torches because there is a scenario in which Walker is no longer the hitting coach. He might wake up at the end of the season and simply walk away.
“I just spent a long time talking to [former Sox hitting coach] Walt Hriniak when we were in Boston, and he said at the end of his [tenure], he was carrying it home too much, and that’s why he walked away,’’ Walker said.
Asked if he’s worn down by it, Walker said, “I don’t even think about it until the end of the year. I’ve done other things; I’m capable of doing other things. I love this job, I cherish it, but I also know there will come a day when I’m not going to be doing this. We’ll see.’’
If it happens, the Sox will be worse for it.