Return of the Mac
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.