Friday, November 2, 2012
McGwire as hitting coach? Cue righteous indignation
By Mark Saxon
A report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Mark McGwire has informed the Cardinals he intends to leave his position as the team's hitting coach to take a similar job with the Dodgers.
If that happens, the Dodgers figure to take their share of abuse for the hire.
There's no need to rehash it -- the magical race with Sammy Sosa to the home run record, the andro story, the appearance before Congress, the public confession -- all over again. McGwire has become, along with Barry Bonds, the walking symbol of the peak of the steroid era.
Unlike Bonds, McGwire is still around the game.
If I'm a Dodgers fan, the only thing I care about is whether McGwire can coax a little more power, a little more patience, a little more skill, out of a lineup that stalled at the worst possible times in recent seasons. He'll be the seventh hitting coach in eight seasons under general manager Ned Colletti, so it's not as if the Dodgers aren't desperate for answers.
Let the Hall of Fame voters debate the moral, ethical and competitive aspects of McGwire's playing career. Judging from the 19.5 percent of voters who had him on their ballots in the most recent voting -- a number that has been declining -- that judgment appears to have been rendered. The operative question here is whether McGwire can make Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, Andre Ethier -- or, more importantly, the younger Dodgers -- better hitters.
Because we got so wrapped up in McGwire's majestic power, we lost track of the fact that, by the end of his career, he was a brilliant technical hitter. Plenty of guys used performance-enhancing drugs and didn't have an OPS above 1.000 for six straight seasons, as he did up until 2000.
McGwire and Don Mattingly would figure to have the acumen -- and the credibility -- to help Dodgers hitters make the necessary adjustments.
It's doubtful Tony La Russa would have hired McGwire strictly as a favor. In three seasons in St. Louis, McGwire gained a reputation as one of the best hitting coaches in the game. The Cardinals were second in runs and third in OPS last season despite playing in one of the most pitcher-friendly home stadiums.
It wouldn't be surprising for McGwire to come home (he grew up in L.A. County and attended USC), only where he would land. As soon as the Angels dismissed Mickey Hatcher as hitting coach last spring, I wondered whether they would contact McGwire this offseason. He's made it no secret he'd like to be closer to his family in Orange County. If the Dodgers do bring him aboard, it might tell us a little more about the team's willingness to spare no expense -- and to weather publicity storms -- to change its fortunes.
Considering the Dodgers have already made the most expensive trade in franchise history and begun renovations to one of the most historic stadiums still standing, maybe we shouldn't be surprised by anything they do these days.