Oddly enough, Joe Cowley's column was the only the second-most worthwhile read about Greg Walker on Wednesday, unless these I'm-just-now-telling-you-I-knew-something-bad-was-going-to-happen-months-after-it-finished-happening tales do something for you.
Jerry Crasnick also talked with the former White Sox hitting coach, and since it focuses on his new job with the Atlanta Braves, it's a whole lot more useful.
I'm intrigued by hitting coaches, mostly because I really can't write about them with any certainty. I wonder just how certain teams are about hitting coaches when they hire them, given how they often get the ax when things go awry. Their existences seem mostly interchangeable, hinging on timing and whether a high-profile player can be considered a success story.
I have some notions about what Walker brought to and took off the table with the White Sox, but they're only notions. So I was glad to see him hook up with the Braves shortly after he parted ways with the Sox, because it's going to add some context to his time on the South Side, as well as some data to compare it to, even if conclusions can't be strongly drawn.
Crasnick's article is well-timed. Since it's right before spring training, we're catching Walker coming off a relationship that had grown stale, and right as he begins a new job with new bosses who are picking up what he's putting down.
According to Crasnick, Walker and Kenny Williams "are not on each other's Christmas card lists," which is to be expected after their alleged argument over Gordon Beckham's mechanics in September.
While Cowley emphasizes the idea that distrust is still rampant between players and management as long as Williams and Don Cooper roam the land, I'm thinking the chain of command has to be strengthened by the streamlining. Williams, Walker and Ozzie Guillen all had their own long-lasting and mutually loyal relationships with Jerry Reinsdorf dating back to the 1980s. While that's ultimately an asset, the independent bonds also played a part in conflicting accounts over who could make what decision, and, namely, who could fire whom. The whole saga brings to mind some wise words from Mr. T: "Don't get too close. It's hard to pity a fool if you get too close."
With Guillen and Walker moving on to their respective NL East destinations, the remaining durable relationships aren't working against each other now. Williams and Cooper have been on the same page (to Guillen's chagrin), Ventura is back in the fold but learning the ropes, Jeff Manto and Joe McEwing are relative newcomers, Mark Parent is a complete outsider, and Harold Baines is Harold Baines. At least from the outside, it looks like management will be able to pity fools with far fewer ramifications, which should make the new regime more decisive. The way I see it, that's a step forward no matter what kind of tension remains.
And whatever tension remains will pale in comparison to 2011, as Walker told Cowley the cold war weighed heavily on the clubhouse despite claims to the contrary.
Anyway, these twin Walker pieces allow him the opportunity to close the book on his White Sox career, and he did it with professionalism -- vague acknowledgment of strained relationships and wounds, well-wishing to Reinsdorf, Ventura and his other friends in the organization, and an agreement that the change is for the best.
So now we get to see the cycle begin anew with Atlanta. Crasnick breaks down the situation in great detail, and there are ways to compare and contrast what he inherits in Atlanta with what he dealt with in Chicago.
1980s White Sox relationships: Jim Fregosi, a special assistant to Atlanta GM Frank Wren, threw his support behind Walker after Wren fired previous hitting coach Larry Parrish.
Scott Fletcher is also in the mix. He'll serve as an assistant hitting coach, bringing another perspective to the mix and handling advance scouting with video. Crasnick said that this arrangement has worked well in St. Louis. For what it's worth, Manto said during SoxFest that he'd be nuts if he didn't lean on Baines for advice.
A key underperformer: Walker replaced Gary Ward in order to try to give a new voice to a all-or-nothing offense, and, at the time, an all-nothing Paul Konerko. One of the big reasons he left Chicago is because he couldn't get through to Beckham.
The Braves went looking for a new hitting coach because Jason Heyward's career is going in the wrong direction, and he never clicked with Parrish. If he can get Heyward back on track, it could give him the kind of job security Konerko's revival afforded him in Chicago.
A disappointing offense: Besides Heyward, the Braves had other surprising reasons behind the lack of runs. Dan Uggla's first-half batting average rivaled Adam Dunn's, Brian McCann tried to come back too soon from an oblique injury, and Martin Prado was hampered by a staph infection. Like the White Sox of the early aughts, the Braves have parts that are greater than the sum, and if they can put it all together, they're a threat.
Geography: While most White Sox players spend winters away from Chicago, most Braves players hang around Atlanta all year. Instead of having to fly from place to place to meet individually with hitters, he has been able to hold group sessions at Turner Field with hitters young and old. This might not matter, but the Chicago winters have come up in other ways (Bobby Jenks having nobody to play catch with, for instance).
Less loyalty: The Braves have churned through hitting coaches, going from Terry Pendleton to Parrish to Walker since 2010. If the Braves offense shows no improvement, it's hard to imagine Walker getting as many chances as he did in Chicago.
For now, it's all positive. Walker speaks of Heyward the same way he spoke of Alex Rios during offseason consultations, and Walker receives some praise that is familiar to us. Selections from Crasnick's article include:
- amiable, disarming way
- firm believer in the importance of forging bonds
- thick skin
- foxhole mentality
- arrive at the park early and stay late
Here's one description of Walker that didn't quite match his Chicago reputation, though:
The Braves liked Walker's mix of old-school fundamentals and receptiveness to new-age technology and information.
Then again, new-age technology and information was eschewed by Guillen (according to Mark Gonzales), and he might have set the tone for the field operations. However, Manto's hitting philosophy leans more toward traditional thinking, so it's hard to say the Sox have changed their approach all that radically, if at all.
Who knows? Maybe it's all noise. But since the White Sox will have a new hitting coach for the first time in nine years, and their old hitting coach will inherit a comparable situation with a few notable variables, I think it's worth following their first years on the job. The distance from both Manto and Walker might allow us to pity them more accurately should pity be necessary, and if we can't glean any insight on hitting coaches from the comparison, maybe there's nothing for us to learn.