Return of the Mac


So maybe, just maybe, perhaps, it might be, maybe, that the St. Louis Cardinals are preparing to name one Mark 'Big Mac' McGwire as their next hitting instructor. Maybe. 

 Okay, first off, to get it out of the way: I think this is a brilliant move. Mark McGwire, despite what shortcomings he may or may not -- or may -- have had in the ethics department, was a brilliant hitter, and one who understood very, very well the importance of a proper plate approach. McGwire was a remarkably patient hitter throughout his major league career, even before he became the poster boy for the beta version of the Bonds Treatment. 

In recent years, as you're probably well aware if you pay much attention to what the Vacuous Twins, Dan and Al, have to say during broadcasts, McGwire has taken to instructing a small group of hitters in the offseason at his home in California. Skip Schumaker is probably the most well-known of his disciples, and it was right around the time he began training with Mac that Skip took a significant step forward. Chris Duncan trained with McGwire as well, and in fact developed a plate approach similar to that of McGwire his first couple years in the big leagues, before the injury bug attacked Chris in earnest. 

As far as the professional side of this possible decision goes, the long and short is this: I think the Cardinals are -- okay, might be -- making an outstanding choice in Mark McGwire as hitting coach. He's proven over the past few years he's capable as a teacher, his approach at the plate was always one which focused on patient, intelligent plate appearances, and even when playing, he had a reputation for breaking down his own at-bats and swing constantly, looking for any edge he could gain. We tend to look back at McGwire now as just this muscle-bound freak whose only skill was to hit baseballs absurd distances, but that's revisionist history at best. McGwire's career OBP was .394; even his last year in the league, when he very nearly had become the hulk we tend to remember him as, he managed to get on-base at a .316 clip in spite of a batting average of only .187. 

Of course, there is an elephant in this room, and it's a doozy. Talking about Mark McGwire strictly through the lens of what he did on the field is, to make a rather shocking understatement, foolish. What muddies the waters so much, of course, is the fact we have to question just how legitimate those on-field accomplishments really are in light of what we suspect about the way Big Mac went about achieving those results. 

So what do I think about all the other stuff? What do I think about the steroid allegations, and Jose Canseco, and Congressional hearings, and I'm Not Here To Talk About The Past

Three words. I. Don't. Care. 

I simply don't care anymore how McGwire did the things he did. Back when the steroid scandals first began really coming to light, and it looked like Big Mac was the king of tainted records, I cared deeply. I was offended, deep down in my soul, at the very notion these players had sullied the sanctity of the game with their performance enhancing ways. But as time has gone on, and we've seen more and more and more and more players come to light as 'roid users, I've come to realize the problem was so prevalent for so long that singling out just a handful of players is completely useless. I'm not a moral relativist; I do happen to think there are things which are always wrong. But at the same time, I believe in human beings as rational creatures who respond to incentives, and when such a huge percentage of players are gaining an unfair advantage, I find it very difficult to demonize those who choose to make their own bargains. 

So no, I don't care what McGwire may or may not have done when he was a player. (Okay, let's face it, he totally did.) Would I like to know the whole story? Of course I would. Understanding how things got so out of control before is key to preventing the same thing from just repeating itself in the future. But I'm not going to scream and beat my chest if McGwire still doesn't want to talk about the past. 

This is what I care about: can Mark McGwire help Cardinal hitters be more patient and selective at the plate? Can he help Colby Rasmus regain the plate discipline he had in the minors, rather than the month-long refusal to accept a walk we saw in 2009? Can he help teach hitters to go with the outside pitch and hit the ball the other way, rather than trying to pull everything and continuously rolling over pitches on the outer half? I think the answer to those questions is probably yes, and that is all I care about. 

We saw what very well could have been a high-powered offense in 2009 sputter at times, struggling to score runs, and I think a poor plate approach was largely to blame. I've long thought Hal McRae's philosophy is far too aggressive and often exacerbated or even led to poor habits by Cardinal hitters. I think Mark McGwire is an inspired choice to change that culture and help unlock the full potential of this Redbird offense. I believe he can do the job he's apparently being considered for, and I believe he can do it well. 

And everything else, well, I do believe I said it before, but I'll say it again. 

It's been eleven years since the Home Run Chase. Eight years since Big Mac retired. Six years since he sat and embarrassed himself in front of Congress. I just don't care anymore.

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