JUPITER, Fla. -- From time to time, something upsetting or unhappy may come up and
McGwire's return to baseball won't likely become a serious problem. America loves tales of redemption, and McGwire's second act has a pretty good chance of succeeding, if his otherworldly work habits and strong early reviews are any indication. In fact, St. Louis general manager
St. Louisans aren't going to care because what they see through their Cardinal-colored glasses are the best of McGwire. His tireless work ethic this spring remains off the charts, his loves of the younger hitters is obvious and his discreet nature carries a charm -- especially now that all his dirty secrets have been laid bare.
"I'm here because I love the game and want to pass along my knowledge," McGwire said. "I want to get the young minds rolling."
On a recent day, McGwire arrived at 6:15 a.m., after the catchers but before just about everyone else, and, aside from a 15-minute break for our interview, never seemed to stop working. McGwire has been a reticent interview in the past, and you can't be sure if that's because he's shy or was hiding something. Now, he is a willing one. Is it because he's kind or he's looking for something? Maybe a bit of both.
McGwire never directly answered the question as to whether his new job was undertaken in part to help his public image and perhaps even his sparse Hall of Fame vote (77 percent don't vote for him, and I am in the majority). When asked about that image and whether he hopes it will improve, he said, "I've always believed I was always a good guy. I was a quiet teammate who took care of business, and laid it out on the field."
As a hitting coach, it's clear he will lay it all out there once again. Even in a job that doesn't pay a superstar's wage and he clearly doesn't need (though, he said that "the checks will be cashed''), the work never stops. He was instructing past 3 p.m. with shortstop
No less an authority on hitting than
McGwire's career path was certainly unique, whereby he transformed from an excellent yet injury-ravaged player into Babe Ruth II. "I did what I needed to do to be the best I could possibly be," he said. (He meant nonstop labor, not frequent steroids, but both must come to mind.) He explained his dramatic improvement by saying he perfected his swing. La Russa said, "He changed his style, changed his approach.''
La Russa remains an ardent admirer, and some have suggested he insisted on hiring McGwire to the point where he wouldn't have agreed to come back as manager if the Cardinals refused. The return has made for some uncomfortable moments already for La Russa, who for years had contented McGwire was never a participant in the steroid era but finally had to admit he was wrong all along. "I was disappointed there was usage,'' La Russa said.
La Russa mentioned his disappointment a couple times, yet he also said that considering all McGwire's injuries and accompanying desperation to revive a derailed career, "I can understand." The lawyer in La Russa put the best spin possible on the story. He contended their program in Oakland and St. Louis is clean, and mentioned several A's stars who've never been implicated, from
Nobody's actually questioning McGwire's commitment to his profession or his teammates. You better believe the last thing he ever would have done was rat out a teammate, as his crazy former Bash Brother teammate
If we remember what a pleasant man McGwire normally is, and what a great employee he is, perhaps we'll forget that he took beaucoup steroids, didn't cooperate with Congress and spent the last five years as a hermit. (McGwire disagrees with that last characterization, saying he was merely more interested in starting a second family and being with them, which is surely a more pleasant alternative than answering unhappy questions.)
"I don't have to do this," McGwire said of returning to the game he loves. If he becomes a distraction, he might wish he didn't. But it's highly unlikely that will happen.
• Plenty of good players remain free agents, including outfielder
• Cooperstown-bound starters
• Calero had a terrific year in Florida. But the belief is the Marlins did a terrific job pitching around an arm issue. There can be no other explanation.
• The White Sox's offer to
• It's interesting that Damon got $8 million, or exactly $250,000 more than