United Cardinal Bloggers Roundtable: McGwire


I am lucky enough to be part of the United Cardinal Bloggers network. The UCB includes all the top Cards blogs on the web with many different viewpoints. The network does many joint projects in coverage, including blog radio shows that recently interviewed Kyle McClellan, posts, and roundtable discussions.

“One of the things the United Cardinal Bloggers are known for is their roundtables.  A question gets passed around via e-mail, everyone weighs in, and then the transcript gets posted on the questioner’s blog the next day.

The preseason roundtable always seems to be the biggest, and this year is no exception.  Seventeen of the UCB members–including our newest, Intangiball–will be discussing the Cardinals and the game of baseball for the next few weeks.”

I posed my question a few days ago, so enjoy the answers from everyone who participated and be sure to check out their great blogs.

Question: Cardinal nation seems to be split on the topic of Mark McGwire’s return. Some will boo him, others will cheer him. Where do you stand on the McGwire issue? Love him, hate him? Do you think he will be a success as hitting coach or do you wonder if he really has the credentials to get the job done?

I guess I haven’t completely decided where I am on the McGwire issue. For me, its all about performance. We were not a great hitting team last year, even after the additions of Holliday and De Rosa, so I am expecting some improvement this year. If he can improve our hitters and our offensive attack then I will be in favor of this move; if our offense is just as stagnant as last year, then I will be in favor of looking in another direction. I will always be a fan of Mark McGwire the player, regardless of his steroid use, but I will only be a fan of him as a coach if he succeeds.

-Jack Kelly, Thoughts About Cardinals

I was a Mark McGwire fan while he was in Oakland, and was extremely excited when he was traded to St. Louis.  Loved ’98, hated to see him go out in ’01.

When all the steroid stuff started swirling, I was one of McGwire’s defenders.  Heck, even after the congressional testimony (which I knew looked bad), I still left open the door that he was clean.

So even with the revelations, if you can call them that, I’m still in McGwire’s corner.  I don’t care for what he did, but it’s in the past.  He’s apologized in a manner that I believe is sincere.  He’s answered questions, he’s said what he wants to say.  I’m fine with him being the hitting coach and I don’t believe it’ll be as much of a distraction as long as he stays open about things.

As for how he’ll do as a hitting coach, I honestly wasn’t sure when they hired him, but the more I listen to him talk, listen to him discuss the mental side of hitting, hear the players talk about how much he’s already helped them, I think he’s going to do just fine in that role.  It doesn’t seem to be a situation where they wanted McGwire somewhere, so why not hitting coach?  It was more that they’d have hired him as a hitting coach even if he wasn’t Mark McGwire (if that makes any sense at all).

-Daniel Shoptaw, C70 At The Bat

McGwire’s hiring was announced right after La Russa said he was returning, and that combination led me to temporarily question whether I could keep rooting for this team. I am squarely in the anti-TLR camp and was at the time sort of haughtily dismissive of steroid users. But as the weeks passed, I came to the realization that while I would have preferred that players didn’t do steroids back then, it was nevertheless part of the game’s culture and there’s just no way to quantify the effect steroids had. It was part of the game, just like the exclusion of black players until 1947, just like amphetamines in the 1960s and ’70s. Those eras are accepted at face value, and I think the Steroid Era should be too.

Having come to terms with that and having gotten Mac’s long-sought-after admission of what everyone already assumed, I was ready to move on and get down to business. I can’t wait to see what he has to offer our hitters, especially the young guys like Brendan Ryan and Tyler Greene in particular. If Mac can teach Greene to wait for something to drive, his moderate power/speed combo could be tantalizing.

In terms of credentials, I think Mac has plenty. Last year’s team was merely average in OBP, and that’s with the all-world contributions of Pujols and Holliday. If plate discipline is something that can be taught, Mac seems to be the right guy to do it.

-Jeff, Five O’Clock Blogger

My thoughts on Mark McGwire returning are well-documented already (http://www.fungoes.net/?p=2480 and http://www.fungoes.net/?p=2488), so I won’t rehash that. As for whether he will be successful as a hitting coach, I get the feeling that local media and members of the organization doth protest too much (the sycophantic coverage from the Post-Dispatch and others borders on mawkish). More directly, with so much hype and emotional and reputational investment from “the boss,” it’s hard to imagine that any player who feels McGwire isn’t doing the job is going to a) feel empowered to speak up and b) have much hope that anyone would do anything about it, anyway. With most coaches, the benefit of the manager’s doubt usually rests with the players; if a coach isn’t cutting it, it’s the coach who is reprimanded or fired and not the player. In the Cardinals’ current situation, the balance of power seems to have swung the other way. Think about it: What surer way to land in Tony La Russa’s doghouse than to raise concerns about McGwire? At the first hint of dissatisfaction, the ensuing media coverage will be amplified well beyond what happens in a normal situation, potentially causing even minor indiscretions to end up in dysfunctionality. Little good can come of this tendentious hiring, but plenty of bad. The team will have enough to worry about trying to win a title without the added disruption of “office politics.” La Russa’s selfish gambit to reinstate his crony has already divided fans; it wouldn’t be surprising if it divides his clubhouse.

-Pip, Fungoes

What if a pitcher doesn’t think he’s getting aid and assistance from Dave Duncan?  Isn’t Tony’s loyalty to Dave a stronger bond than it is to a former player that he might respect immensely but hasn’t put in the day-to-day time for the last 30 years like he has with Duncan?

Tony by himself is an intimidating figure.  What rookie in his right mind would criticize any coach in a LaRussa locker room?  The players that have been there, though, know LaRussa and, for the most part, I think they can come to him with a comment or question and not be dismissed or doghoused immediately out of hand.

Besides, Hal McRae was around for, what, two+ years and we never heard word one of discontent with his teachings, though some of the comments made after he left indicated that there could have been some that weren’t completely taken with his approach.  For the most part, what happens in the Cards clubhouse actually stays there, so I don’t think this is going to be a major issue.

-Daniel Shoptaw’s Response, C70 At The Bat

I was a pretty big Mark McGwire fan during his years as a Cardinal. In fact, I even got caught up in the “Bash Brothers” gimmick back in the late ’80s when the A’s were dominant and the Cardinals were awful. Any love I lost for him happened during that Congressional Hearing a few years back. That was painful to watch. His explanation about that to Bob Costas helped me accept why he did what he did then.

When I heard of the McGwire hiring and that he was going to address the steroids issue, I honestly expected what we got from Tiger Woods a few days ago: prepared statements, no questions, back into hiding to let it blow over, etc. The content of some of McGwire’s remarks were questionable at best, but aside from that the guy gave a statement, took an interview from Bob Costas on national TV, and held several press conferences. And he’s continued to be accessible. It’s way more than I thought I’d ever hear from him. So I’m satisfied with that.

It will take some time to truly evaluate McGwire as a hitting coach. But in the short term I think we can look at his smaller-scale success with guys like Skip Schumaker along with his obvious command of attention from guys like Albert Pujols and say that he has a fair chance to have a real impact. If he can help improve plate discipline and guide hitters out of slumps I think he will do just fine.

-Chris, Bird Brained

There is no denying Big Mac could drive a ball. But I remember thinking even in ’98 that he was no threat to unseat any members of congress with his oratory skills. Little did we know he’d remove all doubt in front of actual congressmen.

The man is inept at public speaking and this makes him an easy target for media types. In a perfect world, Joe Buck would be there to narrate his every move and instruct him to gracefulness.

“Touch first, Mark!…Smile and nod, Mark…What Mark meant to say is…Slama-lama ding-dong!”

Laugh if you want to, but that “Slama-lama ding-dong!” is key. Though his interviews have exposed in him a certain Ron Burgundy-meets-Ebby Calvin LaLoosh before he became “Nuke”-quality, he’s not particularly funny. His emotions run too near the surface for a man in his circumstances and he could use the comic relief. I plan to write more on McGwire once I wrap my brain around a few things, so for now I’ll just list a few points that I am certain of.

He came forth. He wasn’t “caught”. He never tested positive and his name never showed up on any report. Barry can’t say that. Roger can’t say that. Alex can’t say that. Ryan Franklin can’t say that. Mark McGwire was offered a job and accepted it. Knowing that it meant throwing himself beneath a really big bus driven by some very vindictive people. He’s was a multi-millionaire playing golf and minding his own…hanging with his family, and occasionally sharing what appears to be a highly-regarded knowledge of the art of hitting. And he apologized.

I’ve got my skeletons and you’ve got yours. And though Jack Clark apparently stripped the meat from his and ate them with several large bowls of gravy, he’s got his too. What I can’t pretend to know is how many of McGwire’s critics would have faced so much scrutiny head-on in order to teach something that they love to others when they did not have to. From this point forward he should be judged upon his performance as hitting coach and given the chance to succeed or fail based on results. I personally feel good at his chances, and that all of the other stuff boils down to this: He apologized. And I accepted.

-Justin, Intangiball

1. I don’t know if McGwire will be an effective hitting coach. Certainly those players who worked with him over the past several off-seasons have high praise for his tutelage, but working 1-on-1 for a couple of weeks is not the same as mentoring 25 guys over a full 7 or 8 month season. I’m willing to give him some time in the job and evaluate him later on.

2. I no longer have an opinion on McGwire. I was once pro-Mark, sitting comfortably in the ‘there’s no proof he used’ boat, but that ship sank. I respect his desire not to lie in front of Congress, but his insistence steroid use did not help him hit the ball farther left me cold.  I don’t love him, I don’t hate him, he’s just a guy.

That said, this whole situation sucks. It sucks McGwire used. It sucks he stonewalled for years. It sucks he gave a half-assed apology. It sucks that my favorite team, the greatest franchise in the National League, the only other franchise with double-digit World Series wins, the ONLY franchise to outduel the Yankees in the Series (winning record in terms of WS wins, faced NYY more than once) is permanently sullied by this.  Every time steroids is discussed we get treated to shots from 9/8/98, and McGwire pointing to the bat with birds logo across his chest. We are permanently connected to the steroids mess.  It sucks it sucks it sucks.

Sometimes I rue the day Jocketty traded to get him.

-Mike, Stan Musial’s Stance

McGwire brings a level of respect that no other hitting coach could have brought.  He has the full attention of his pupils and seems to bring a sound approach and hard working attitude to the vocation.  While he doesn’t have the experience of a Hal McRae, he seems to use more advanced techniques (video, plate discipline, driving the ball instead of slapping at it), that should play well to the blogging crowd.

My attitude towards McGwire is like most everyone else.  I don’t condone the steroid use, but don’t feel that it should give him a life sentence away from the game.  Many people talk about the distractions he may cause to the team, but I feel that it may have the opposite effect.  The Cardinals may circle the wagons, with an us against the world attitude that makes teams more close knit.  One thing you don’t have to worry with a Tony LaRussa team is team focus.

-Michael Riehn, Whiteyball

Thanks to everyone who gave me a response. I remain against McGwire’s return to baseball as I have said in my many posts on the issue!