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Minutes after Williams spoke, a source confirmed that all of the coaches that had contracts up after this season — specifically hitting coach Greg Walker, pitching coach Don Cooper, bench coach Joey Cora and first base coach Harold Baines — had or were in the process of signing extensions thought to take the staff through 2011.
If you want a reason to not buy into this story quite yet — Torii Hunter. Shortly before Thanksgiving in 2007, Cowley wrote:
Sources both in the Sox organization and the camp of free-agent outfielder Torii Hunter have told the Sun-Times that the two sides could be signing a contract within the week.
And as we know, that didn’t happen. However, the circumstances around this story are different. There’s no third team that’s going to blow the doors off the place like the Angels did with Hunter. In this case, the Sox either extended their coaches, or they didn’t. I’d be willing to wager that they did, so let’s operate that it’s the case.
Re-upping Walker doesn’t make me angry, because one could cobble together a rational defense. As I’ve said before, I don’t know what difference a hitting coach can make. It’s a little rash to demand that somebody lose their job because the results don’t look right, when the causes are difficult to determine.
Look at Rudy Jaramillo, the Texas Rangers’ hitting instructor widely considered to be the best in the business. One of his pupils is Ian Kinsler. Last year, Kinsler finished fourth in the American League with a .319 average. This season, he has lost 70 points off his batting average and nearly 100 points of OPS despite hitting a career-high 29 homers this season.
There’s a good discussion of his issues at Baseball Think Factory. His flyball rate has skyrocketed, and the Rangers fans there say Kinsler’s swing devolves into a severe uppercut for weeks at a time. Making matters worse, Kinsler isn’t alone in that Texas lineup, and they’re fading out of the playoff race as a result.
If you were to ascertain his duties from his quotes alone, you’d think his job description consists solely of waiting for players’ track records to win the day. [Name of hitter] is just being , and all players are as good as the back of their baseball cards say. But he’d be stupid if he were to describe in great detail any changes in approach, and he’d be arrogant if he took credit when the players are the ones who have to produce.
Walker isn’t without his fans — even if they’re all within the clubhouse. Scott Podsednik credited Walker with aiding him in his resurgence, and Paul Konerko remains a supporter. That’s not a bad guy to have in your corner, considering 1) he’s the captain, and 2) he’s been a consistent producer this season despite having a nagging thumb injury. Pitching coaches play a big role in keeping pitchers healthy, so it stands to reason that hitting coaches should get some credit for the same.
Toss in all the quotes about Walker being the first at the park, the last to leave, and the hardest worker for all the hours in between, and maybe you have somebody who doesn’t deserve to be fired.
That said… this move is tone-deaf as balls.
It’s not surprising, because Williams doesn’t particularly care about how he sounds. So much so, in fact, that both the Sun-Times and Tribune stories refer to that characteristic in their ledes.
At the same time, when Williams has made repeated references to attendance driving the Sox’s ability to spend in the offseason, suggesting a strong September showing could make a real difference, retaining Walker doesn’t send the right message.
The offense has showed the same weaknesses night after night, month after month, year after year, even though players with successful track records have come and gone. When Hawk Harrelson stops fawning over the performances by the Ryan Rowland-Smiths of the world and starts repeatedly referring to the role of advance scouting, a breaking point has been crossed.
Williams might be banking on new faces to restore Walker’s reputation. If they’re all around, Gordon Beckham, Chris Getz and Scott Podsednik (if they’re around and healthy) give this team a different look from the get-go. Adding another player from the outside with a consistent track record like Chone Figgins or Bobby Abreu, and that’s a dramatically different style of ball.
If he loses this gamble, he could lose a lot of goodwill.
The worst-case scenario after retaining Walker: Alex Rios continues to keep his eye on the fan deck in center while the ball finds its way into the catcher’s mitt well into 2011, which means half his contract hasn’t paid off. Podsednik runs out of fairy dust, Getz never gets it, Alexei Ramirez’s bat is only good at shortstop, and every new Sox hitter performs as unevenly as every old new Sox hitter.
Compare that to the worst-case scenario if the Sox fire Walker. You can’t, because there’s no way to predict what a change could bring, if any.
I’ll throw a name out there. Say the Sox bring in Mickey Brantley, the former Blue Jays hitting coach who presided over Rios’ most successful seasons in Toronto. Maybe he knows how to fix Rios, but has no answers for Konerko, or A.J. Pierzynski, or anybody else necessary to Sox success, and it’s a net loss. That’s a reasonable outcome — maybe not likely, but what is? Williams is siding with the devil he knows versus the devil he doesn’t.
Here’s where that line of reasoning falters, in my opinion. If the worst-case scenario with the new hitting coach plays out, they could probably just re-hire Walker. After all, the Sox gave Gary Ward an unceremonious boot in 2003, and you know what he’s doing? Serving as hitting coach for the Charlotte Knights.
Walker has declared himself loyal to the White Sox organization, and seemingly has been prepared for the ax to fall for years. Couldn’t Williams give him the title of “roving instructor” for a year, just to give him some breathing room and let the situation play out? If the Sox stumbled under another hitting coach, that would go a long way in giving Walker a second life.
At this point, I’d just like to see the Sox try to prove where the recurring problems — rookie pitchers, changeups, cold weather — stem from. Some variables have changed, and yet the problems still remain. Walker has been a constant, and at this point, it’s hard to find reasons why he should be.
*While looking for a few articles for the above, I came across this Sports Illustrated article from 1989 regarding Walker’s battle with epilepsy.
*Chris De Luca says Bobby Jenks has “delivered his last pitch for the Sox.” He’s more definitive with this statement than he is about Jermaine Dye’s future, although “impending” is a strong word choice in and of itself.
*David Haugh writes his first White Sox column for the “In the Wake of the News” slot. It’s a promising start.