Hitting coach Greg Walker leaves White Sox on his terms
BY DARYL VAN SCHOUWEN firstname.lastname@example.org September 28, 2011 10:14PM
Updated: December 2, 2011 2:12PM
What a contrast. On the last day of a season to forget, Greg Walker — tired, wounded and dealing with a world of emotions after officially resigning as White Sox hitting coach — did everything he could to hold it together after talking to a handful of reporters in former manager Ozzie Guillen’s office.
A few minutes later, there was pitching coach Don Cooper, sitting in Guillen’s customary pregame seat in the Sox’ dugout in his two-day role as interim manager, talking to reporters and still basking in the glow of receiving a four-year contract extension and Mark Buehrle’s performance the night before.
“I tell you what, over the last couple days, I’ve just been thinking how blessed I am and how fortunate I’ve been in everything,’’ Cooper said. “Every time I turn around, something good has been happening in my life.’’
The sun even came out after a rain shower while Cooper talked. Those pictures of Walker and Cooper on Wednesday captured the 2011 Sox in many ways. Cooper’s pitchers probably did enough to get them in the postseason. Walker’s hitters didn’t.
The last straw for Walker, whose teams ranked third in the majors in home runs and 10th in runs scored since his tenure began in 2003, might have been a run-in with general manager Ken Williams weeks ago that almost came to blows. Williams’ public comments questioning Gordon Beckham’s swing had punched Walker in the gut.
“The decision was made earlier in the year,’’ Walker said. “A lot of different things came into the decision process.’’
The Walker-Williams confrontation was the latest.
“I informed Jerry a month ago that my time was over,’’ Walker said. “We talked about it, and it’s just the right thing to do. It’s time to go, so it’s somebody else’s turn. I always said there would be a day when I wouldn’t be the hitting coach here. And that day is here.”
Walker, who played on the Sox’ 1983 division championship team, wouldn’t have received a new contract if he wanted to stay, especially with a new manager coming in. But he was able to walk away on his own terms, citing personal and family matters, and he remains close to Reinsdorf.
“I have no plans whatsoever,’’ he said. “I have a dinner set up with Jerry sometime in the near future, and we’ll discuss some things. I don’t know. I’ve spent a lot of my life learning this craft, which is very tough to do. So we’ll see.’’
Reflecting on his time as a coach, including the 2005 World Series championship, and his friendships with players, Walker fought his emotions.
Paul Konerko credits Walker with rebuilding his swing and said that Walker will always “be my guy.’’
“It’s tough to say in one interview what he’s meant,’’ Konerko said. “I trust him with every inch of my swing.’’
“He doesn’t get the credit he deserves,’’ catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. “I’ve known him for seven years. He’s taught me more than I ever knew about hitting. I think because certain guys haven’t done what people expected out of them he’s got a bum rap, and he deserves to be credited with a lot of really good people and lot of success. And it’s a shame. I hope people remember what he did and what he taught people, and whoever is the next hitting guy here is going to have big shoes to fill because Greg Walker did a lot of really good things here and he deserves a ton of credit. And hopefully now that he decided to step away he’ll get that.’’
The Sox (79-83) lost to the Toronto Blue Jays 3-2, falling for the ninth time when leading in the eighth inning. Chris Sale (2-2) blew the save in the ninth as the Jays scored twice to deny starter Philip Humber (one run, 62/3 innings) his 10th victory.
“I guess I learned a valuable lesson today: Winning doesn’t suck nearly as much as losing,’’ Cooper said.
That could be said of a season that began with postseason and World Series expectations. The players who return have to look themselves in the eye and come back stronger, Cooper said.
“They better,’’ he said. “Because some guys went through some real tough seasons. You’ve got two choices as a player, man. One, to come back ready, fighting and ready to go. Or two, crawl into a ball and let them beat the hell out of you again.
“They’ve got to come back ready, every guy. Not only the guys that maybe had the disappointing seasons. Everybody’s in the same boat now. Gotta come back ready to go.’’