by Michael Riehn
“I’m here to talk about the past.” Those are the words Cardinal fans are longing to hear from their fallen slugger. Will Big Mac finally clear the air and put the issue behind him (and the rest of Cardinal Nation)? For the first time in many years, this enlightenment could happen soon, and the Cardinals may get a top hitting coach in the process. So what’s the issue? It sounds like a win/ win right?
The Greatest Show on Earth
McGwire was the most entertaining player in baseball for a period of time in the late nineties… and he was a CARDINAL! The majestic home runs, midwestern values and a soft heart for charity were a staple to his character long before Albert Pujols was a gleam in a Cardinal fan’s eye.
It is said that when they opened the books to the Sammy Sosa foundation, Mark McGwire donated more money than Sosa did to his own organization. He seemed to do things out of the kindness of his heart, instead of playing for the public and media. His fierce privacy was a nice attribute instead of the curse that it is today.
Big Mac even left the team before the fans could sour on him, walking away from a huge contract when he knew he couldn’t play at a high level anymore.
That Was When I Ruled the World
He could do no wrong… until that fateful day before congress. McGwire looked foolish on capitol hill and everyone could see it. He took the most heat and abuse on the steroids issue, and became the face of the problem. He was subjected to ridicule from the public and media alike.
In retrospect, he now looks like the only person who didn’t incriminate himself on that fateful day. We now know the problem was everywhere. What he didn’t admit to is most likely very bad, but it was more common than we were led to believe. It’s obvious that he did something wrong, and that taints his accomplishments as a player.
McGwire has honored many of the commitments from that day, but he has done things in his typical low key fashion. Don Hooten has stated that McGwire has given a lot of money through his steroid awareness foundation (Taylor Hooton Foundation), but he has not worked to build awareness regarding the situation through his stature. He’s largely been a recluse from the spotlight, and this works against his “public redemption”.
Is it Worth the Trouble?
Why would we want the circus of McGwire as a hitting coach? Shouldn’t we just let him fade into the sunset? The answer is this: He may be good at the job. Players swear by his teachings (and video work) and he has had a lot of success. The Cardinals weren’t the only team interested in his service, as the Rockies had made him an offer too.
What if he’s able to help our underachieving hitting team get better? Players respect him even more than La Russa (which is saying a lot). You won’t get someone tuning him out (like Hal McRae last year) and there are many techniques this team needs to work on.
While the PED issue should be taken into consideration, it is just a portion of who McGwire is as a person and he can still be a contributor to the organization. Many of the great values he showed as a player, would be perfect for this team.
The mistake should be taken into context. If McGwire talks about his involvement with steroids (like A-Rod, Andy Petite, Jason Giambi, Manny Ramirez and Rick Ankiel), this will be a minor footnote by mid-season. If he doesn’t, it MAY be a circus, but after awhile it will probably die down too (it will just take longer).
Remember, he is not chasing records and is not a player out in front of the fans anymore. He will be more visible, but more along the lines of Dave Duncan (who rarely gives interviews) and not Tony LaRussa or Albert Pujols. Admitting his demons in public would be nice (especially since he pledged to help fight the issue), but it is not necessary to do this job.
I Do Solemnly Swear to Tell The Whole Truth…
I don’t think McGwire needs a full confession of everything sin he has committed to get past this. An apology, a vague reference of what he did (ala Giambi) and some show of humility would be enough to end the constant media speculation and put the past behind him with a majority of the people.
His employer (the Cardinals and MLB), coworkers (Cardinals) are what are important, and they seem to respect him and have moved past the issue. The fans are overwhelmingly supportive with over 80% in favor of the move (out of 6,000) in a recent Post Dispatch poll (and he hasn’t even apologized), but fan (or even media) support doesn’t matter as much for a coach.
I think it is worth a shot to see what he can do. The distraction could prove detrimental, but there is so much to gain from having him part of the organization again. Hopefully, he will start out with a confession, and then work to make the Cardinals a more patient hitting team than last year (Bottom third in walks, bottom half in on base percentage). At the very least, he makes next year that much more interesting.
(Plus, it wouldn’t hurt if he talked his buddy, Matt Holliday, into resigning with the team.)