While Mark McGwire and his bulging biceps may never be respected enough to grace the halls of Cooperstown, he has certainly crossed over into the ranks of the most respected coaches in baseball.
The Los Angeles Dodgers announced Wednesday that Mark McGwire will replace Dave Hansen as hitting coach.
After a successful three-year run in St. Louis, McGwire will help guide a talented, but underachieving Dodger lineup that features four former All-Stars including Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Adrian Gonzalez.
Short-sighted fans have lazily bashed the former Bash Brother for his steroid-enhanced home run-hitting history, but during the last half of his career McGwire clearly worked to make himself a complete player, improving his defense at first base, raising his batting average and taking walks willingly.
McGwire had already spent a number of years coaching Cardinals hitters in the offseason prior to his official return to the majors in 2010 as Tony La Russa's new hitting coach.
Now, his resume as a hitting coach stands on its own as St. Louis has led the NL in batting (.269) and on-base percentage (.337) during his tenure with the Cardinals. The comparison between the two clubs is eye-opening.
Clearly, the Dodgers have room for improvement offensively.
McGwire's toughest challenge in L.A. will be raising the at-bat intensity level of all four previously mentioned Dodger stars who lack focus at the plate, at times causing offensive slumps that last far too long.
And the quickest way out of a slump is re-establishing your strike zone and taking walks.
As Big Mac told reporters at his press conference, "Hitting is patience, patience, patience."
One must also consider the players McGwire formed into All-Star quality hitters—guys like David Freese, Alan Craig and Yadier Molina. All good players to be sure, but it's clear they've been coached up at the major league level to become professional hitters.
McGwire will help Gonzalez recover his Petco Park mojo, where he was an offensive anchor despite playing in a cavernous ballpark.
He'll get Ramirez to stay within himself at the plate, putting pressure on hurlers who have had it too easy exploiting his bad habits such as chasing pitches off the plate the last couple seasons.
And last but not least, I imagine McGwire will threaten the team trainers with a forearm bash if they can't keep Ethier and Kemp healthy for an entire season in 2013. Neither outfielder has shown an ability to bounce back from injuries quickly.
Better to keep them consistently contributing all year, rather than offering only two hot months the entire season.
If McGwire duplicates his success in Chavez Ravine, his biggest fans just might end up being the Dodgers' pitching staff. I doubt Big Mac would mind being adored by pitchers rather than feared, for once.
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