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Bold decision to hire Mark McGwire as hitting coach has paid off for Cardinals

Oct 19, 2011, 12:44 PM EDT

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When the Cardinals hired Mark McGwire as their hitting coach prior to the 2010 season there was lots of talk about his lack of coaching experience and lots of speculation about how his steroids-related baggage would be a distraction.

Two years later all of that seems to have been forgotten, as McGwire has mostly flown under the radar in terms of national media attention and the Cardinals led the league in runs scored this season.

Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post Dispatch described how even yesterday, with media members from across the country assembled at Busch Stadium and McGwire fielding all sorts of questions, his job performance and the lineup’s success were the focus.

Several hitters, including NLCS MVP David Freese, have singled out McGwire’s tutelage as a big reason for their success and during the regular season the Cardinals led the league in batting average, on-base percentage, and OPS in addition to runs. And as Goold notes they were also the only NL team to strike out fewer than 1,000 times despite McGwire ranking 34th all time in strikeouts himself.

It turns out McGwire is simply a really good hitting coach and Tony La Russa deserves credit for making what was at the time a headline-grabbing, oft-criticized decision to add him to the staff when the media attention on McGwire was almost exclusively negative.

  1. chew1985 - Oct 19, 2011 at 12:53 PM

    Cards hired him in an effort to slowly ease him back into the game and eventually into the Hall of Fame. {I’m with the Maris Family. He should be stripped of any home run records}.

    The writers will take care of the HOF issue–he’ll go in on the same cold day in you-know-where as Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, etc…

    • thefalcon123 - Oct 19, 2011 at 12:58 PM

      So, if they strip him of those home run records, I presume they’ll edit the scores of all the games in which he was a factor…right? I mean, if they don’t count personally for him, how can they count for his team?

    • thefalcon123 - Oct 19, 2011 at 1:04 PM

      …and if Barry Bonds (who had 411 HRs, a .290/.411/.556 slash line, 445 steals, 8 gold gloves, 7 silver sluggers, 3 MVP awards and 103.4 WAR BEFORE anyone ever accused him of doing steroids) doesn’t make it to the hall of fame, that’s more of a reflection of the hall voters stupidity than it is of Barry Bonds.

      And before we pull out the cheating or character stuff, 2 examples:
      1. Willie Mays and a lot of other guys used greenies. Greenies are amphetamines, illegal, and performance enhancers. How much did it help Mays? We’ll never know, just as we’ll never know how much steroids helped Alex Rodriguez.

      2. As for the character clause…two words. Cobb. Ty.

      • jamie54 - Oct 19, 2011 at 1:22 PM

        Get over yourself already. McGwire was good but certainly not ‘great’ and definitely performance ‘enhanced’ whereas greenies were performance ‘enablers’, doing nothing as far as increasing muscle size, strength, bat speed, etc., so spare us your ‘greenies as illegal’ argument, BS.

      • The Common Man - Oct 19, 2011 at 1:29 PM

        Wait, if something enables you to perform, doesn’t that mean that you’re on the field more often to do more things like hit home runs, steal bases, play defense, and strike people out? How is that at all different? If amphetamines do enable performance to happen that otherwise wouldn’t, doesn’t their use artificially boosts the numbers over what a player would be able to do naturally? And how is this at all different from HGH, which has not been demonstrated to help players play better, but that may help them to recover faster?

      • dlevalley - Oct 19, 2011 at 1:35 PM

        Jamie54 – You can say that amphetamines are not performance enhancers, but that does not make it true.

        Amphetamines are, and have always been, performance enhancing drugs. Caffeine has a more measurable affect on physical ability than does HGH*. Just because the science disagrees with your view of the world doesn’t make the science invalid.

        *I’m not saying HGH has no effect, or that it should not be banned (and tested for). But HGH has yet to be proven to have any measurable effect on physical performance (unlike caffeine).

      • gostlcards5 - Oct 19, 2011 at 1:54 PM

        dlevalley – HGH does not improve physical characteristics for a person, true, but it does help a player to recover from injury, fatigue, etc, at a much faster rate. Therefore, it absolutely is a performance enhancer, because it allows players to be on the field more often.

        In fact, I would say that makes the amphetamines/HGH comparison a very good one, where amphetamnies/steroids is probably weak.

      • gostlcards5 - Oct 19, 2011 at 1:57 PM

        By the way, I forgot to mention this…get the Kirk Radomski book. Good read. I actually went into the book thinking “I’m going to think this guy is a real slimeball.”, but that wasn’t the case, and he really explains the effects of steroids versus HGH very well. He would seem to have the background for this, as he was heavily into bodybuilding.

      • dlevalley - Oct 19, 2011 at 3:03 PM

        @gostlcards5: Exactly my point. The effect of HGH is that of an ‘enabler’ (as jamie put it) and not that of an ‘enhancer’ (although the distinction is pedantic – both allow an athlete to perform athletic feats better).

        Distinguishing between HGH (or even anabolic steroids) and greenies is grounded in a desire to romanticize the past, not in reality.

        Also, I’m not a Cardinals fan, but it’d be fun to see them win one after being written off in August. Go Cards!

      • gostlcards5 - Oct 19, 2011 at 6:56 PM

        I think we agree on the fundamental thing (i.e. – which comparison is good), and perhaps I misread or misunderstood your comment. Hell, ala Roger Clemens, perhaps I misremembered my answer. (ha!)

        I am saying the HGH/amphetamines comparison is the reason that you really can’t strike everything from the record books, because many players throughout the years have had their performance enhanced, whether it was by (in your terms) enhancers or enablers.

      • jwbiii - Oct 19, 2011 at 11:20 PM

        Jamie54,

        “greenies were performance ‘enablers’, doing nothing as far as increasing muscle size, strength, bat speed

        Trust me, I have done this. They absolutely do. It is nice of you to tell us that you have a strong opinion on the subject and are clueless, so thank you!

    • The Common Man - Oct 19, 2011 at 1:26 PM

      Those may very well be a benefit of the Cardinals hiring McGwire, Chew, but if they didn’t think he could actually help their hitters they wouldn’t have hired him as the hitting coach. Say whatever you want about TLR, but there’s no doubt that he doesn’t do everything in his power to try to win baseball games (even though that means getting in his team’s way at times). So if he didn’t think his hitting coach was helping the team to win, I can’t imagine he’d stick with him.

      Regarding Big Mac’s no-longer-existent records, I think you’re being silly. Maris had a longer season than Ruth and an expansion of the league in his big year, so his claim over the Babe is equally tenuous. Let’s just count what actually happened on the field, then, since everyone in 1961 was playing under the same rules, and everyone in 1998 was playing in the same Wild West atmosphere.

    • Detroit Michael - Oct 19, 2011 at 2:03 PM

      In general, the writers don’t control who gets inducted into the Hall of Fame, just the timing. Nearly all of the borderline HoF members were inducted by the various permutations of the veterans’ committees. In the long run, it’s the veterans’ committees who will decide who gets into the Hall of Fame, and sometimes, it can be a very long gap between when a player’s career ended and when he is inducted.

      I’d lean toward inducting most of the steroid era players into the Hall. Palmeiro and Ramirez were caught cheating after baseball started making efforts to enforce the band, so they are in a different position from most of the others.

      If you want to wipe the record books clean of cheating, don’t forget that the New York Yankees should not have been able to cheaply trade for Roger Maris and several other Athletics players.

  2. phatnate - Oct 19, 2011 at 12:56 PM

    I am all for a little redemption. He was not the only one doing steriods and is one of the few that have been honest about it.

    • grapes911 - Oct 19, 2011 at 1:03 PM

      He may not have lied but he certainly wasn’t honest either. “I’m not here to talk about the past.”

      • genericcommenter - Oct 20, 2011 at 1:38 PM

        I don’t remember all the details surrounding that Congressional circus thing, but I think not giving any self-incriminating testimony was the smart/no-brainer thing to do. Not talking about the past seems better to me than jabbing your finger and saying you never used steroids and then getting caught or pretending to not understand English. Those guys were placed in a position where there may have been legal consequences and they shouldn’t have been required to give up their rights just because they play baseball for a living.

        The whole Congressional inquiry thing was a joke- with old fat guys who knew nothing about working out or supplements and no intellectual interest in differentiating illegal steroids and things like Flintstones vitamins.

    • El Bravo - Oct 19, 2011 at 1:04 PM

      Lets not forget his honesty came only after getting this new job…

      • thefalcon123 - Oct 19, 2011 at 1:07 PM

        McGwireHater: Man, McGwire needs to just fess up! That “I don’t want to talk about the past” stuff is weak! I won’t forgive him until he admits it.

        McGwire on TV: I did steroids and I’m sorry!

        McGwireHater: Whatta jerk! He’s only admitting it because he has to! Booooooooooooo!

      • kopy - Oct 19, 2011 at 2:13 PM

        There’s a point to what the “McGwireHater” is saying. Apologies always mean much more when the person giving it isn’t forced to do so and doesn’t have anything to personally gain from making the apology.

        In this case, McGwire couldn’t be bothered to ever admit he took steroids until he realized that doing so was the only way to coach in the league. It doesn’t mean as much as just apologizing because it was the right and honest thing to do.

      • stlouis1baseball - Oct 19, 2011 at 3:12 PM

        No it didn’t!

  3. cerowb - Oct 19, 2011 at 1:41 PM

    I always love the headline “Successful Team Praises Hitting Coach”.
    In related news, “Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc”

    • browngoat25 - Oct 19, 2011 at 1:49 PM

      I learned me some Latin today…

      • cur68 - Oct 19, 2011 at 2:08 PM

        ipso facto..

  4. thefalcon123 - Oct 19, 2011 at 2:15 PM

    I remember when McGwire was first hired as the hitting coach, LaRussa said, jokingly, that he’d activate McGwire when rosters expanded in September and use him as a pinch hitter. Everyone had a nice laugh. Who in their write mind would activate and use a guy who hadn’t played in 8 years and was pushing 50 as a pinch hitter.

    Turns out, whoever was managing this team would: http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/CHW/1980.shtml (hint, sort by “age”).

    • docktorellis - Oct 19, 2011 at 4:43 PM

      Nice research, falcon. I had forgotten that…

  5. lookatthefarside - Oct 19, 2011 at 2:22 PM

    Once a cheater, always a cheater.

    • 1historian - Oct 19, 2011 at 2:42 PM

      once an asshole, always an asshole

      • bozosforall - Oct 19, 2011 at 6:19 PM

        Once a New England sports fan, always an excusemaker for cheaters.

  6. braddavery - Oct 19, 2011 at 2:37 PM

    The only downside… he “hitting coached” Albert Pujols into the worst hitting season he has had as a pro. Fortunately, it’s a team sport and Albert would trade a bad hitting season for playoff wins any day of the week.

    • The Common Man - Oct 19, 2011 at 2:47 PM

      That’s an interesting point, but after May 24, Albert hit exactly the same as he did last year (as in the exact same OPS). Perhaps we should credit him with the turnaround. Figuring what to credit McGwire for is an imperfect science, but looking at the whole, it doesn’t seem like he’s hurt the club.

  7. mianfr - Oct 19, 2011 at 2:53 PM

    Clearly it was Mark McGwire’s fault for the random variance in the beginning of Albert Pujols’ season and the fact that opposing pitchers stopped intentionally walking him. The blame for that should always fall square on the hitting coach.

    • stlouis1baseball - Oct 19, 2011 at 3:14 PM

      Yeah really. Hahahaha!

  8. 6ball - Oct 19, 2011 at 3:18 PM

    .

    Red Sox and Roger Maris ….I’m a fan of both.

    .

  9. stlouis1baseball - Oct 19, 2011 at 3:22 PM

    Wow…these negative posts are something else. Hate…hate…hate…drama…drama…drama.
    I attribute it to the “Jerry Springer Mentality” of today’s society. Following the strike…when Big Mac and Sammy were in the middle of their Home Run duel and the turnstiles were in perpetual motion Bud Selig (and society in general) turned their heads. Why? Because they directly benefited from it. When it suddenly become politically correct to identify (and admit to) a potential issue they start testing players, shaking fingers, slapping wrists and trying to shame individuale players.
    The SAME individuals who were (in essence) their pack mules.
    Add an asterisk next to the numbers and line em’ up for the Hall.
    Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmero, Roger Clemens AND Mark McGwire (among many…many others) absolutely DESERVE to be in the HOF.

    • nlfan865 - Oct 19, 2011 at 7:13 PM

      stl….i concur. if ones morale character is a guage to the greatness of his athletic or competative abilities and accomplishments then the hall of famers could be counted on one hand…the time has come for some to come down from their high horse. if left to the governing consensus of the early governing authority of baseball such greats as satchel paige would never be in the hall of fame when they could have effected the game beyond the acheivements of those held in such high regard of their day,so to disqualify to let these modern players be subjected to this kind of self righteonous is dishonorable….joe jackson and pete rose deserve to be in the hall of fame just as ty cobb does ,because no matter their level of personal integrity….they earned it on the field of play…after all its just a game

  10. foreverchipper10 - Oct 19, 2011 at 6:16 PM

    I prefer a Whopper to a Big Mac.

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