Back in October, Mark McGwire returned to the headlines. The former Cardinals slugger decided to return to the game he limped away from in 2001. McGwire went from the superhero that saved the game to one of the faces destroying it, all in just a few years. Now, he plans to get back into that same game as the Cardinals hitting coach. Tony La Russa is excited for McGwire to be back in baseball, and even more excited for him to instill the same relentless work ethic he had as a player into the Cardinals lineup. Of course, it isn’t that simple.
After McGwire’s embarrassing testimony on Capitol Hill, he was blackballed by many fans and dubbed a cheater. That day in Washington left baseball fans everywhere with more questions than answers, especially for McGwire. He avoided the questions, trying to ignore the past and look only to the future. The questions remain, and have certainly multiplied since 2005, creating a cloud of doubt over Mac.
Each year around this time over the past few years, the cloud returns. The Hall of Fame announcement is preceded by coverage on the high-profile candidates and speculation on who will join the elite. For McGwire that means the return of the same questions each year. Will his percentage go up? Will he ever get in? What exactly did he use? Yesterday was the same old story. ESPN asked the questions. Later, the voters gave the answers, and that too was more of the same. He received 23.7% of the vote, in line with every other year on the ballot. After four tries, the prospects of Big Mac joining the immortals in Cooperstown are already dim. The cloud is just too big to overcome, blocking all the light—the 583 career home runs, that classic summer of ’98, the entertainment value of the home run slugger. It was all lost in the dark cloud of doubt and steroids.
Now, McGwire has a chance. A chance to erase the storm clouds, or at least to diminish them. With his position as hitting coach, McGwire must tell his story. Not to Congress. Not to Senator Mitchell. And not to John Dowd. McGwire has to let it all out—for the fans. And for the game. The game that he undoubtedly loves and just couldn’t stand to stay away from, even if it meant facing the storm. Baseball is too precious for a former player to forget. McGwire is and always will be a baseball player. That is a special title, one worn with great pride and honor. Only, McGwire’s pride and honor have been tarnished. He has been called a disgrace to the game. It has to hurt. Now, he can restore his pride and his honor as a baseball hero in America. Let him tell his story. Let him bask in the summer sun once again.
Maybe next year’s Hall of Fame announcement will tell a different story for McGwire. It is in his hands to save his own legacy, and that can only come with the entire truth. No more clichés or one-line answers. He needs to reach deep within and let it all out, for the game. America is forgiving, but only when it believes the confession. He can no longer hide from the past. With the Hall of Fame announcement in mind, Tony La Russa also seemed kind of excited about McGwire as a player again.
La Russa said he would add McGwire to the roster for the postseason push if the Cards are in contention. Beyond his plan for McGwire as a hitting guru, the St. Louis manager referred to the idea as unlikely, but not “a zero possibility.” The release of this idea is curious, considering McGwire suffered through another poor showing on the Hall of Fame ballot. It makes one wonder if La Russa’s “little dream” has a little bit more to it than letting Mark take a few more hacks. McGwire is 46 years old and struggled in his final days at the plate. It seems unlikely that he would have any magic left. The motive behind it seems to be the Hall of Fame. As noted above, this was McGwire’s fourth crack, and the news was far from positive. If he would come out of retirement for a few postseason at bats, his retirement would reset along with his timetable for the Hall of Fame. This would give him a 5 year gap to allow the healing process to take shape. McGwire would then pick up where he left off on the ballot, his 5th attempt. This would be wrong, and I do think it is a long shot but it has crossed La Russa’s mind.
Even with extra time, McGwire’s Hall of Fame hopes rest solely on his once broad shoulders. He can help his case greatly if he does open up to the media, the fans, himself, and the game. La Russa anticipates a McGwire interview soon. Spring training may be the first and best chance for him to come clean. It will remove any distraction for the Cardinals when the season starts, as well as any distraction for him to do his job as hitting coach.
It’s time baseball is simple again for Mark McGwire.