Pro Perspective: Walt Hriniak
- As a Player: Atlanta Braves, 1968 - 1969; San Diego Padres, 1969
- As an MLB Coach: Montreal Expos, 1974 - 1975; Boston Red Sox, 1977 - 1988; Chicago White Sox, 1989 - 1995
Massachusetts Born and Bred
Walt Hriniak was born on May 22, 1943 in Natick, Massachusetts, which is close to Boston - a place where Walt would spend a portion of his career.
He excelled at sports and became a star in his own right at Natick High School playing on their Football, Hockey and Baseball teams.
Walt was a sought after prospect who was eventually signed by the Milwaukee Braves after high school graduation, in 1960. Interesting enough, at that time Walt played in the infield.
After being signed, Walt played in the minor leagues for a handful of Braves farm teams. In 1967, while playing for the Austin Senators, Walt was brought in as an emergency catcher. He played so well behind the plate that day that it became his new position.
Walt was called up to the Braves in September of 1968, making his big league debut in a game against the San Francisco Giants.
Though poised to get a lot of playing time in 1969, injuries sidetracked his season. He had only a few at bats with Atlanta in 1969 before being traded to the San Diego Padres in June. Walt shared catching duties on the Padres for the rest of the Padres' inaugural 1969 season.
The 1970 season found Walt back in the minors, where he would play until being released in April of 1971.
In his MLB career, Walt hit .253/.333/.253 with 99 at bats. Defensively, he caught for 228 innings, had a .977 fielding percentage as a catcher and maintained a 40% caught stealing percentage.
From Player to Coach
After his playing career ended, Walt immediately got into coaching.
Beginning in 1972 he coached and managed in the Montreal Expos' minor league system, before being called up as a big league coach in 1974.
In 1977, Walt went over to the Boston Red Sox first as a bullpen coach, then as hitting coach. He eventually became one of the most famous hitting coaches in Major League Baseball in the 80s and 90s, receiving both praise and criticism for his methods.
He became the highest paid MLB coach in 1988, when the White Sox signed him for $500,000. In 1989, he co-authored a book called A Hitting Clinic: The Walt Hriniak Way (note: affiliate link).
While with the White Sox, Walt coached players like Frank Thomas, Bo Jackson - even Michael Jordan during part of his famous 1994 season in Baseball.
After the 1995 season, Walt retired from coaching in the majors. He moved back to Massachusetts and served as a local hitting instructor, high school coach, and occasionally consulted with big leaguers in need of some hitting help.
Q&A with Walt
Walt is a former big league catcher who has experience with multiple MLB teams. He has played with or coached many MLB Hall of Famers - names like Hank Aaron, Carl Yastrzemski, Carlton Fisk and Wade Boggs, among others.
I wrote Walt a few months ago looking to get his feedback on my regular questions for pro catchers. He kindly autographed an index card for me and responded to my questions, as shown below.
Like all the others in the Pro Perspective series, I wanted to share his responses with our readers in the hope that his input will help catchers interested in improving their game.
Here are Walt's responses to my questions, as you will also notice in the image below.
Question 1: What is your favorite memory from playing in the major leagues?
Answer: My first two hits off Juan Marichal 1968.
Question 2: What do you think is the most important skill that a catcher should have?
Answer: Good hands & toughness.
Question 3: If you could give one piece of advice to young catchers hoping to play at the next level, what would it be?
Answer: Practice hard.
Walt had a reputation (as both a player and coach) as being scrappy and giving it his all, so his answers are not unexpected. It's sound advice to be incredibly tough behind the plate and to put in the necessary work before games. Be dogged about developing yourself and your skills, and don't settle for mediocrity!
Thanks for Reading
We have many more Pro Perspectives ready to share, and we will continue posting them in the coming weeks ahead. Keep on the lookout for them!