The Atlanta Braves will interview Greg Walker, formerly of the White Sox, this week in the effort to fill their vacancy as hitting coach. Walker had done good work in Chicago, although he was criticized for his inability to reach prized prospect Gordon Beckham and the famous flailer Adam Dunn. (An aside: Dunn was whiffing 190 times a year long before he met Walker.)
Greg Walker? He’d be a good hire. But there’s a guy I keep hearing touted for the job who’s already in-house, and I wanted to address that today. His name: Larry Wayne Jones Jr.
I hold Chipper Jones in the highest regard. He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer, the second-best everyday Atlanta Brave ever (behind only Henry Aaron). And I’ll concede that Chipper knows an awful lot about baseball and hitting. That said …
He wouldn’t be my first (or third) choice as a hitting coach now or at any time, for the simple reason that folks who are really good at something often make bad teachers. They can’t understand why lesser talents don’t take their imparted knowledge and do as they did. And Chipper’s phlegmatic demeanor — the same demeanor that makes him a great and cold-eyed interview subject — isn’t what the job demands.
Bobby Cox once called Chipper in and said, “Chip, we need you to be more of a leader, to talk it up more.” That night the Braves fell behind and Chipper sought to exhort his mates by yelling, “Come on, dagnabit!” — or a loose translation thereof — in the dugout. The effect, shall we say, was less inspirational than desired.
And that’s Chipper: He’s a great leader by example, but it’s not his nature to be a rah-rah guy. And being a coach of any sort involves a high component of rah-rah.
No matter. There’s one other Brave I can see inspiring the team’s hitters to great heights, a Brave whose mere appearance brings out the best in batsmen. In three seasons here, opposing hitters have batted .301, .273 and .285 against Derek Lowe. Just let him earn $15 million he has remaining on his contract by throwing batting practice every night. Then watch as balls fly over the fence and hitters gain in confidence. Watch, I say!
Yes, I’d concede this is thinking outside the ol’ box. But no more so that what the Braves tried last season, which was to hire as big-league hitting coach a man who’d never been a big-league hitting coach. At least Derek Lowe knows what good hitting looks like. He sees it every five days.
By Mark Bradley