Mark McGwire has returned to MLB as the hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals. His acknowledgment of his long-term use of performance enhancing drugs coincided with the kickoff for the 2010 season. This timing produced an explosion of public interest in his return to the game.
Somewhat lost in this return was an important question. Is Mark McGwire qualified to be the St. Louis Cardinal hitting instructor?
So how might McGwire's stack up in having the qualifications necessary to succeed as a hitting coach? I've put together six criteria for being a major league hitting coach and rated whether I felt McGwire met these criteria.
The evidence suggests McGwire's qualification is worthy of debate.
1. Significant previous coaching experience? No.
McGwire really has no significant history of coaching at the minor league or major league level.
When McRae joined the Cardinals in 2005, he had been a hitting coach on the major league level for 10 years with four teams (Kansas City Royal, Montreal Expos, Cincinnati Reds, and the Philadelphia Phillies).
It might have been better for McGwire to first demonstrate success as a coach at the minor league level. Such a path might have provided a better assessment of his merit for being a hitting coach at the major league level.
2. Authorship of original teaching materials or methods of hitting? No
I searched for hitting and Mark McGwire on Amazon.com. The only relevant item I could find was a DVD entitled: "Major League Baseball Hitters on Hitting--Finding the Sweet Spot" (2001).
Barry Bonds and McGwire are featured in this 45 minute video. McGwire's contribution to the DVD appears to be this advice "You see [the ball], you hit it."
3. History of success as hitting coach? No
McGwire has no success as a hitting coach in the minors or majors. McGwire has been involved in some informal off-season hitting advice for several years. A 2009 New York Times article noted that McGwire has worked with Skip Schumaker, Dave Duncan, Matt Holliday, and Bobby Crosby.
Holliday batted .313 in 2009. Before working with McGwire, he hit .321 in 2008 and .340 in 2007.
Crosby batted .223 in 2009. Before working with McGwire, he hit .237 in 2008 and .226 in 2007.
Duncan hit .259 in 2007, followed by .237 and .223 in 2008 and 2009, respectively. It's reported he started working with McGwire after the 2007 season.
Skip Schumaker has credited McGwire with contributing to his hitting success (.302 in 2008 and .303 in 2009). But Schumaker batted .333 in 2007 before working with McGwire, albeit in only a partial season with the Cardinals.
With this data, it's hard for me to give McGwire credit for the history of success as a hitting coach qualification.
4. Evidence of being a great hitter? Yes
No one doubts McGwire posted great power hitting numbers as a player. However, his hitting for average numbers do not reach real levels of excellence.
5. Evidence of service to the Cardinal organization? Yes
McGwire has a long history of being a Cardinal player and supporter. He appears to be sincere in his desire to return to baseball and help the Cardinal organization.
6. Professional relationship with Cardinal manager Tony LaRussa? Yes
Tony LaRussa's relationship with McGwire spans working together in both the Oakland Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals organizations. A major league manager typically has authority to select and hire assistant coaches. LaRussa and McGwire appear to have a supportive relationship. LaRussa may be a good mentor for McGwire's evolution as a hitting instructor.
The analysis of six qualifications suggest McGwire's qualification as a hitting coach is debatable. In the end, future numbers will determine whether McGwire will be seen as a good hitting coach.
The Cardinals scored 805 runs in 2005, McRae's first year in St. Louis. This ranked sixth best in the majors. However, Cardinal hitting performance dropped off in 2006 through 2009.
During these last four years they ranked only between 12th and 22nd in the league. If McGwire can direct the Cardinals back to a top 10 run-scoring team, no one will question his qualifications as a hitting coach.