Back in 2005, the Cleveland Indians stumbled out of the gate while the White Sox sprinted away with a huge early divisional lead. In an attempt to shake things up, Eric Wedge cut hitting coach Eddie Murray loose in early June, replacing him with Derek Shelton.
The changeup became Exhibit A for those who think hitting coaches make a measurable impact, as the Tribe's fortunes turned around:
Going through newspaper archives, the firing seemed to stem from a difference between Wedge, the strong-willed manager, and Murray, whom Wedge inherited. The clubhouse reaction wasn't remarkable. Jody Gerut was the most supportive of Murray, but otherwise, responses seemed courteous, boilerplate, maybe even a little tepid.
I bring up that change because the Indians once again fired a hitting coach. This time, it was Manny Acta bidding farewell to Jon Nunnally, who had only been on the staff since 2010. It's a development worth keeping your eye on, because these circumstances are much closer to the ones we're far more familiar with.
For one, Acta didn't inherit Nunnally - he hired him after being named manager of the Tribe in December of 2009. Also, the players' reactions are far more emotional:
As expected, news of Nunnally's firing did not go over well in the Tribe clubhouse. Some players made themselves unavailable for comment. Others declined comment. One who spoke on the record was right fielder Shin-Soo Choo.
"I don't know what's going on,'' Choo said. "It's not like we're in last place; we're in first place. There's a lot of season left. I'm just sad that he's not around us anymore. This is very disappointing. I feel very bad about it. He helped me. He helped everybody.''
The struggling Choo might not be the best endorsement Nunnally could hope for, but Asdrubal Cabrera -- who has hit 12 homers this year -- also gave Nunnally a strong endorsement. Nevertheless, the offense has been in a major funk. The Indians hit .265/.334/.425 over their first 45 games, going 30-15 in the process. But over their recent 8-16 slide, they hit just .225/.290/.338.
So Nunnally is out, Bruce Fields is in, and now the Indians have used four different hitting coaches during Greg Walker's tenure with the Sox. It will be interesting to see how the Tribe hitters respond, because when it comes to the midseason firings, Nunnally and Walker are far more comparable than Walker and Murray. It's true that Ozzie Guillen inherited Walker, but he may as well have hired him, given how close they are. And if Walker were fired, I'd bet a few White Sox would react in the same fashion as Choo.
If I had to guess, I don't think this decision will end up providing more ammo for the "Fire Walker" camp. This feels like a move determined by the shape of the season and the lack of Travis Hafner, who was out for a month with an oblique injury. I think the Indians probably would've been thrilled if you told them they would start the season 39-31, but since a once-healthy lead is in danger of slipping away, something had to be done.
However, if the Indians start hitting again (not counting Hafner, who was hitting for Nunnally before he got hurt), hurt feelings and all, the anti-Walker population will at least have a more recent data point to point to.
Not that it will matter. Paul Konerko is hitting .327/.394/.586. Walker's not going anywhere.
In case you were wondering, because I was, here are the AL Central hitting coaches since 2004:
Indians (4): Eddie Murray, Derek Shelton, Jon Nunnally, Bruce Fields.
Royals (3): Jeff Pentland, Mike Barnett, Kevin Seitzer.
Tigers (3): Bruce Fields (heh), Don Slaught, Lloyd McClendon.
Twins (2): Scott Ullger, Joe Vavra.
White Sox (1): Greg Walker.
Oddly enough, the only current coach I couldn't name off the top of my head was Vavra, who's been with the Twins since 2006. Ullger, on the other hand, I'm familiar with.