Q&A: Denny Walling

Hitting coach Denny Walling has come under attack in recent days for the Mets' offensive struggles, but it hasn't been a total surprise to the 18-year Major League veteran. <P> In fact, in this exclusive interview archived earlier this year, Walling told <I>Inside Pitch</i> that being second-guessed is just one of the undesirable "perks" of his job. (Premium Content)

Mets Inside Pitch: Last season, a lot was made of the Yankees' hitting failures, and that finally led to the dismissal of Rick Down. Is it fair to blame the hitting coach for the team's failures?

Denny Walling: Fair isn't a part of this game. The truth is, you give the guys the drill work they need, and all the repetition they need, but they still have to go out and do it. That's just the plain truth.

If a group of players don't do what's expected out of them by the organization, you can't get rid of all the guys, so you get rid of the coach. That's just life.

NYMIP: So ideally, is it a hitting coach's dream to not be interviewed, not be quoted, not be in that public eye?

DW: I don't know any that want the public eye. Most of them just want to get down there into the batting cage a couple of hours before the game and give these guys the drills they need to get ready to produce on this level. That's the hitting coach's job.

NYMIP: You'll be working with Kaz Matsui and Mike Cameron extensively this year. What will your approach be to help them cut down on strikeouts?

DW: We're going to try to get them to use the whole field and see the ball a little bit better with two strikes. You've got to know your strike zone.

They've both played a lot of organized baseball, they're both good professional players and I'm expecting a good working relationship with them. We had a lot of success here last year with young players and with a lot of the older veteran players pulling into line with them.

NYMIP: Who would you say your best students have been in your coaching career?

DW: Tony Clark was a great example. He made some great adjustments last year. Joe McEwing also made adjustments; Wiggy (Ty Wigginton) and Jason Phillips. Most of these guys that I'm mentioning go to right field with two strikes, see the ball real well and they make things tough on the pitcher.

NYMIP: What did you do to help McEwing in particular?

DW: He had a lot of movement that he really didn't need. Joe and I talked a lot, we worked a lot, and he's a diligent worker. He'd do anything for this team.

He cut down on the movement and became a line-drive hitter; now, he spreads the ball all around the field, and if they end up in the right place, he's going to be standing on second or third.

NYMIP: How tough was it for you to watch from the bench as the Mets struggled through 2003?

DW: We expected to contend for a playoff spot, and we had unbelievable injuries that lasted an insurmountable time for us to recover. I mean, we had injuries that lasted forever: Mike (Piazza), Mo (Vaughn), you go right down the list.

I think the one bright spot we had last year was the young guys coming up and making the impact that they did. This year, they can be counted on to do more because of the added experience that they've already had.

NYMIP: What are you looking for from Ty Wigginton this season?

DW: I think Ty can get the ball elevated a little more this year; he's a strong kid. He had to learn all the pitchers here and learn playing every day; he's a very hard worker. He's got to learn to channel that work and learn not to overwork, and get down to quality ad not quantity.

You have to teach these guys self-knowledge. They can't always do it on their own. If you communicate and talk to them, and do it before they go 0-for-5 one game.

NYMIP: It really seemed like Wigginton was worn down in August and September. How can the coaching staff help to guard against a similar late-season slump?

DW: It's quality instead of quantity. Ty noticed, and we had a little discussion on it. I don't care if it's your sophomore season or your fifth season, pitching and hitting are all about constant adjustments. If you're having a good series against a team, the next time around, they're going to try something different on you.

I think he's ready for that. We're going to work on that, adjusting to [pitchers] moving the ball around and throwing him breaking balls, and we're going to be ready for that.

NYMIP: How comfortable are you with your place in the organization and your dealings with management?

DW: I feel really comfortable with them. The philosophy has been extended the whole way from the top down into the minor leagues. I feel really comfortable with it, the organization feels comfortable with it and hopefully the young guys who come up this season won't have to make any adjustments. They should be learning what we're trying to do here in the big leagues as part of their development.

NYMIP: Are you happy in your current role, or do you have any higher aspirations to manage in the big leagues?

DW: It's snuck in there once or twice, but I really enjoy what I'm doing. I've got the background because I played 14 years in the big leagues, I can communicate with these guys and add humor to the mix, and I try to keep it relaxed.

Most of all, I've never forgotten what it's like to be a player. Once in a while you'll hear some commentators around, and they used to play for a number of years, and the longer you're away from the game, the camera angles make it look simple.

It's not simple. This isn't a simple game, it's a difficult game. There are going to be ups and downs, and we've got to be prepared for that.

NYMIP: In your opinion, what's the most important quality for a hitting coach to have?

DW: You need to be able to show that you're human. You want them to relax. They can have some fun in this game.


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