09/28/11 2:59 PM ET
Walker steps down as White Sox hitting coach
Konerko's upswing, club's '08 home run title among achievements
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
Speaking to a group of writers Wednesday morning in Ozzie Guillen's old office, the hard-nosed Walker became emotional at times when talking about his relationship with the players, coaches and people in the clubhouse over his nine years working with White Sox hitters.
Walker informed White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf of his decision roughly one month ago.
"We talked about it, and it's just the right thing to do. It's time to go," Walker said. "A lot of different things came into the decision process, but it's somebody else's turn. I always said there would be a day when I wouldn't be the hitting coach, and that day is here."
Asked about his reasons for leaving, Walker said some of it was "personal, family" related. There was no question that the constant scrutiny of his position and the team's three consecutive rough non-playoff years took their toll.
"You have to have thick skin to do this job," Walker said. "But yeah, it's been a tough few years on all of us. Nobody involved in this organization in the last three years has not been beat up. You have to go through tough times to make things happen."
"It's the toughest job in sports, to be honest with you, because how many coaches in any sport are dealing with 13 guys or 12 guys, and two or three of them feel good?" White Sox captain Paul Konerko said of being a hitting coach. "You're constantly dealing with negatives all day and figuring out how to make guys feel good about themselves and confident about what they're doing. That's hard to do. It's just a hard job every day."
Difficult or not, Walker excelled at his craft since taking over from Gary Ward on May 19, 2003. During his tenure, the White Sox ranked third in the Majors with 1,789 home runs and 10th with 6,722 runs scored. The White Sox hit a franchise-record 242 home runs in 2004 and led baseball with 236 in '08.
In eight full seasons under Walker's tutelage, Konerko hit 30 or more home runs six times, 40 home runs twice and drove in at least 100 runs five times. Konerko still considers Walker his hitting coach despite the departure, and the same can be said for players like Gordon Beckham and Brent Lillibridge, who gives Walker credit for resurrecting his offensive game in 2011.
Konerko admitted it was tough to say in one interview what Walker has meant to him individually. But when Walker took over in 2003, Konerko was in the throes of his worst season, finishing at .234 with 18 homers and 65 RBIs.
"When he showed up here, what I thought about hitting and where I was at as a hitter, it's not even close to what I am now, as far as how I go about it and how I work and what I'm able to do," said Konerko, who hit .300 with 31 homers and 105 RBIs this season. "He's gotten me to places as a hitter and a player that I would have never gotten to without him.
"That's the best thing I can say. The fact that we're good friends and we have fun at other things, that's great too. But as a hitting coach, I trust him with every inch of my swing. I've been really lucky to have somebody that when you ask, 'Hey, what am I doing up there? What does it look like?' Whatever he said, you have no question in your mind about trusting him what he's saying.
"If he says do this, I do it. It's pretty simple. With me, I've been lucky, and Gelly [assistant hitting coach Mike Gellinger] as well. Those two guys, I've gone in there to work hard and I have let them point me in the right direction, and they haven't steered me wrong."
Another banner year from Konerko was among the highlights from Walker's final campaign. On the flip side, he had to deal with criticism over Adam Dunn's historically bad campaign and prolonged slumps from Alex Rios and Beckham.
Public questions over Beckham's hitting approach from general manager Ken Williams presumably led to a shouting match in the clubhouse tunnel between Williams and Walker.
Walker's exit comes two days after manager Ozzie Guillen departed, but the two were not tied together. After giving his heart and soul to the White Sox, led by one of Walker's mentors and friends in Reinsdorf, Walker felt as if it was time for a change.
"Even if Ozzie was back here as manager, I was not going to be the hitting coach next year," said Walker, who added he has no immediate plans outside of dinner with Reinsdorf. "They have known ever since I've been here that if they had somebody else to do this job, more power to them. I want what's best for the White Sox. It didn't have anything to do with the recent events. That decision was already made.
"We had some good times and tough times. There are going to be good times and tough times no matter who the hitting coach is. You just go through it. You do the job.
"This organization is as relevant as it's ever been. When I first got here, you saw nothing but Cubs hats on Michigan Ave. Now you walk down Michigan Ave., seeing White Sox hats. My part in that, I am very proud of it."