I know there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the Cardinals’ decision to hire Mark McGwire as their new hitting coach.
Apparently, there’s a segment of Cardinal nation that believes McGwire is going to be handing out vials of Primobolan, Dianabol and Winstrol throughout the clubhouse. They think he’s going to be some sort of in-house steroid supplier rather than a hitting coach, because that’s all they know about the guy.
Look, I’m no McGwire apologist. He’s the most difficult personality I’ve ever had to cover. But how he interacted with me, the media, and his teammates are two different things. By all accounts, McGwire was an excellent teammate. While he was playing, he offered numerous helpful tips to struggling teammates. He understands the game, he’s a competitor, and he’s a smart baseball observer. If a pitcher is tipping pitches or if a hitter’s hands are out of position, McGwire is one of those guys with the innate ability to recognize a problem and either exploit it or repair it.
The other thing McGwire will hopefully be able to impart to Cardinal hitters is an understanding of the strike zone. The Cardinals 3.67 pitches seen per plate appearance were the second fewest in the National League (San Francisco was last). The Rockies led the league at 3.99 P/PA, and most teams in the league are around 3.82-3.85. Based on the league average of 38 plate appearances per game, that’s about seven pitches a game pitchers didn’t have to throw against the Cardinals. Or, almost two walks…two baserunners.
The best offensive teams make pitchers work. And that’s what McGwire will be able to impart to Cardinal hitters. He was one of the most disciplined, mentally tough hitters in history. The players that he’s worked with, like Skip Schumaker, Matt Holliday and Chris Duncan say McGwire’s approach to hitting is primarily mental. The Cardinal hitters need help between the ears. They have the talent, they simply need to focus.
This is a move about winning baseball games. Don’t get fired up about Big Mac being one of the faces of the steroid era. There won’t be a single person in baseball more scrutinized than him. No, get fired up about McGwire helping Cardinal hitters reach their potential, about him getting the Cardinals to make pitchers work, and about him helping the Redbirds win their 11th World Championship.