Greg Walker, the Braves’ new — and, if early returns are to be trusted, wildly successful — hitting coach, returned to Chicago on Monday and made the media rounds. Walker had spent nine seasons with the White Sox, helping the Pale Hose win the 2005 World Series but ultimately falling from favor with general manager Kenny Williams.
As Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago writes, Williams fired Walker after a clubhouse spat last August only to be overruled by owner Jerry Reinsdorf. (And here we thought Frank Wren could get impatient.) According to Levine, some in the organization blamed Walker for the lack of success enjoyed by prospects Gordon Beckham, who’s from Atlanta and who played at Georgia, and Brent Morel. And it didn’t help that the relationship between Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen, who can be high-maintenance, had clearly reached the point of diminishing returns.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Walker went on WSCR-AM 970 and admitted he’d stopped being himself:
I made some mistakes last year on the South Side. You try to learn from them and move on … I had quit being myself. I had started coaching on my heels, not being aggressive, maybe worrying about what people thought or perceptions and in the past I really didn’t care, I just did what I thought was right. I think the situation other there just got me to be kind of defensive, and not as positive, not as much energy as I needed. … I needed a change.
Walker told Levine that he’d been given the chance to stay under new White Sox manager Robin Ventura but declined. He said he “shook Kenny’s hand [and] wished him well.”
Under Walker, the Braves lead the majors in runs scored and are second (behind St. Louis) in the National League in batting average. (They were 13th last season under Larry Parrish.) The White Sox under new hitting coach Jeff Manto are 11th in the 14-team American League in runs scored, eighth in batting average. Beckham, who hit .230 last season, is hitting .218. Morel, who hit .245 in 2011, is hitting .182.
I’d say the Braves have cause to be happy with their new man, and the feeling seems mutual. “We have a great team and they are playing well,” Walker told Levine. “I am enjoying coaching more than I have in a long time. It’s a lot of fun again.”
By Mark Bradley