Finally, Mark McGwire is a brand name associated with St. Louis Cardinal baseball again. No longer a steroid-fueled pariah, he is undoubtedly anxious to not talk about the past and resume his life of contribution to the game. His role as hitting coach hopefully will be viewed as an offering of an olive branch to fans and the media after his past transgressions.
But, honestly, who cares about any of that? I mean, sure there is going to be some media attention and some standing ovations and some idiots yelling at Colin Cowherd, but that has nothing to do with Mac’s performance as a hitting instructor. The guy did steroids like ten years ago. He also hit 135 man shots in two seasons. Steroid use or not, he was simply amazing. The knowledge he can transfer from his 583 four-base hit experience will certainly improve the offensive woes of this Cardinal team. Right?
Not exactly. It is a mistake to assume that someone who was great in the battlefield will be great leading troops. It is certainly not unusual for someone who experienced great success as a player to be utterly incompetent in every non-playing aspect of the game (see: Thomas, Isiah; Morgan, Joe).
For an example closer to home, Dave Duncan never threw a pitch in his career, yet he is widely regarded as one of the best pitching coaches of all time. Dunc can identify problems and deconstruct hitters not because he sat at 95 with a plus yakker at age 25, but rather that he understands the simplicity of batter vs. pitcher. The most basic tenets of his pitching philosophy are to keep the ball in the yard and avoid the free pass. By focusing on these goals and letting the defense do the rest, guys like Joel Pineiro have resurrected their careers under Duncan by keeping the ball down in the zone and forcing opponents to hit their way on.
So, if our hall of fame pitching coach is preaching the benefits of avoiding walks and making guys put the ball in play, why the hell is our future saying things like this:
Rasmus said he’s supposed to think swing, not walk. (…) “I don’t like walking,” Rasmus said. “I’m trying to hit.”
This is evidence of a serious disconnect in baseball comprehension in the Cardinal clubhouse. It seems to me that if the two were ever to face each other, Colby Rasmus : Joel Pineiro :: lasagna : Garfield. And it’s not just Rasmus. Cardinals players are constantly quoted about “being aggressive” – if Hal McRae had twitter he’d make it a trending topic on his own. The 2009 Cardinals walked in just 8.8% of their plate appearances, good for 20th in MLB and 12th in the NL (and this figure is largely supported by Albert’s 16.8% rate). Five regulars had BB% lower than 8% – Ludwick, DeRosa, Rasmus, Ankiel, and Ryan. This is simply unacceptable when the man who has it all figured out is literally sitting in the dugout giving this information away. It was time for McRae to go.
In essence, McGwire will be judged by his ability to convince his hitters to become Duncan’s worst nightmare. He isn’t going to hold a clinic on the Monster Smash this Saturday and suddenly turn everyone into sluggers. Pure talent and superhuman power can’t be transferred simply by osmosis. But he does bring an outstanding approach, evidenced by his career 17.6% BB rate and .394 OBP despite just a .263 career batting average (I know what you are thinking, but just 4% of all balls he saw during his career were of the intentional variety). Now, I have no idea if he will be able to effectively communicate his method to the hitters. But he can’t do any more harm than Hal’s “aggressiveness” did.
Here’s to hoping for the anti-Duncan.