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Brave New Era Greeted Tim-idly
2004-02-17 21:46
by Jon Weisman
Note: The Dodger Thoughts blog has moved to the Los Angeles Times.

While many view the position of hitting coach as baseball's equivalent of the Vice Presidency in pointlessness, I chafe at the idea.

The Dodgers had the worst hitting team in baseball in 2003, yet many had trouble assigning any blame to hitting coach Jack Clark ...

... even though people were quick to praise Jim Colborn for mentoring the top-flight pitching staff.

... even though his lineup of talent, much of it young or in its prime, suffered a performance decline from 2002.

... even though Clark's credentials to be hitting coach in the first place - one season managing the independent Class A-level River City Rascals and one season as the Dodgers' Class A hitting instructor - resembled Bob Dylan's acting resume.

No one has proven to me that baseball players, even grown-up major leaguers, don't need refinement or repair when it comes to swinging the bat. There are technique coaches in every sport; there are mental and intellectual advisors in every walk of society. Tony Gwynn might not have needed a hitting coach - he was a born hitting coach. But few are like Tony Gwynn.

Jack Clark deserved to lose his job. And in August, he lost it.

The Dodgers hired George Hendrick as a truly interim replacement, but one of the lost stories of the winter was the fact that this atrocious offensive team not only failed to upgrade offensively on the field for 2004, it failed to hire a hitting coach.

Tuesday, the team finally did so, in disconcerting fashion, by picking the under-credentialed Tim Wallach.

Wallach spent 1997 as the Dodgers' Class A hitting coach in San Bernadino. The biggest position player to come out of that team - and I wasn't even going for a double entendre before looking this up - was Angel Pena, whose career major league on-base percentage (.256) barely exceeded his 228 pounds.

Wallach then spent a couple of months at the end of '98 as San Bernadino's manager (Mickey Hatcher, who started the season, went out around the time of the initial Fox purges). According to The Associated Press, Wallach later coached at Cal State Fullerton and managed Anaheim's Class A team in Rancho Cucamonga.

The mainstream media is quick to jump on Paul DePodesta's young resume and question his qualifications to be general manager, yet no doubt they will accept this justification for Tim Wallach's first coaching job above A ball, from Dodger manager Jim Tracy, as easily as hearing that water is wet.

"Tim is a quality baseball man and a quality human being,'' Tracy told AP. "I am excited about him joining us and working with our ballplayers. Tim possesses a great deal of hitting knowledge and he will be a great addition to our staff.''

I am not saying that Wallach can't or won't succeed. I just don't understand why anyone would believe that he would.

Especially - and here's the twist - DePodesta.

"We are very pleased to be able to add such a well-respected baseball man to our coaching staff,'' DePodesta told AP. "I know that Jim Tracy and the rest of his staff are happy to welcome Tim back to the Dodgers."

The quote from DePodesta is so trite, so subjective, so old school, it is stark in its conventionality.

It's almost as if DePodesta himself is making the case that the hitting coach doesn't matter. That, or this isn't a decision where he's going to pick a battle with the established thinking that says you simply find a "well-respected baseball man" to fill the Rupert Giles role of training Dodger mound slayers.

It's as if DePodesta has either not studied the issue, or studied and found out that your batting numbers will be the same with coach Rod Carew or coach Rod Serling.

In any case, here I am, at odds on the first day with the hip young general manager that I am so prepared to like, the only general manager that assuages the backstabbing that I feel Dan Evans received.

No objective formula would generate Tim Wallach, an All-Star but not a Hall of Famer, a coach whose experience wouldn't fill Don Zimmer's combat helmet, as the person to rescue the worst hitting team in baseball.

Either I've been wrong all along and the hitting coach doesn't matter, or DePodesta is signaling that some areas are exempt from philosophical change.

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