Mark David McGwire. He of 583 home runs, 1,414 runs batted in and 1 painfully unwatchable testimony before Congress is coming back to the Cardinals?
The Cardinals off-season just became roughly 34,000 times more interesting.
Joe Strauss of the Post-Dispatch is reporting that Tony LaRussa will be returning as the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals in 2010 and that he will, barring a last minute change of heart, be bringing Mr. McGwire on board as the Cardinals hitting coach, replacing Hal McRae, whose contract was not renewed by the club.
While the LaRussa re-signing had been all but finalized in the past several days, Monday's press conference seemed to be little more than a formality and photo op for the local media. But the news that Big Mac was emerging from a self-imposed sabbatical from baseball's spotlight has rocked Cardinal Nation.
McGwire has been actively teaching a number of Major League players the finer technique of hitting for several off-seasons now. Garrett Atkins, Matt Holliday and Skip Shumaker have all been instructed by McGwire in some form or fashion. Couple this with the fact that McGwire was very close to accepting a instructor position for the Cardinals in spring training two seasons ago, the appointment doesn't seem like too juicy of a story line...
But nothing Mark McGwire does is small. Including returning to ground zero of the steroids battle in baseball.
St. Louis will now engage in one of the most heated debates the city has endured, well, since Big Mac left after the 2001 season and his legacy needed to be solved.
Judging by his statistics alone, McGwire is one of the greatest sluggers to ever play the sport of baseball. Widely credited, along with Sammy Sosa, of bringing baseball back to a place of national prominence after a work stoppage in 1994 nearly de-railed its efforts to continue on as "America's Pastime", McGwire is also credited with contributing to the decay of an entire sport and some might say culture.
He's not in the Hall of Fame. And there is a reason for that.
Big Mac used steroids. We do not need to sugarcoat this. We do not know what kind, for how long or what impact they had on his career. He, Sosa and Barry Bonds are all statistical hulks that used performance enhancing drugs to alter the landscape of how the sport of baseball was and is played.
Big Mac also didn't do anything wrong. Moralists might take umbrage with this statement, but the fact remains that the entire span of Mark McGwire's career MLB did not have a steroid policy. It wasn't socially prudent to talk up one's artificial bulk, but it wasn't against the rules of the time, either. You might not like the fact that McGwire used a myriad of things to get an edge on his opposition; however, that doesn't mean he didn't have a right to do it if he wanted. He did what he needed to do.
But Hooks, I think Big Mac and his records should be stricken from the books. He might not have cheated technically, but dude—he's a cheater.
Can't argue with that sentiment. I really can't. I was enamored with Big Mac in 1998 as much as anyone else. That testimony in front of Congress embarrassed me as much as you. I wish all of his records would have been done with no aide.
But all I care about is the Cardinals in 2010.
And I think that Mark McGwire can help the Cardinals win a World Series.
Reasonable people, people like you an me, know that hitting almost 1500 RBI's and swatting 583 home runs isn't something that any jackleg with a needle in their ass can pull off. You've got to be more than a lab creation to survive the jungle of professional sports for nearly two decades. When you do things that no one has ever done you've got to have a very refined skill set that is worth sharing with peers.
Enter Big Mac: Hitting Coach.
The goal will be to transition this knowledge set he has honed for years into tangible results with the Cardinals hitters. Hitters will respond to a former player they respect. And while you might not respect him, the guys getting paid to play baseball sure as hell do. They're going to listen and listen intently to what he has to say.
Will he be good at doing this specific task? Who knows.
But I'm willing to give him a chance. Is the rest of the city ready to do the same?
(Side note: do you think that the program directors at the three major sport talk stations in St. Louis creamed their pants a little or a lot when they got wind of Big Mac's return? I mean this guy STILL pulls in a strong opinion by locals and he's been gone and silent for 8+ years! In today's age of moving on to the next thing almost instantaneously, Big Mac is a notable exception. By the time we get to opening day this whole topic will be so beat into the ground it'll be comical).