You have to hand it to Tony La Russa: He couldn't give a gerbil's behind for what you think about steroids. He'll defend Mark McGwire to his last breath, and now it looks like he will even hire him. What does McGwire bring to the table, though? Rick Hummel:
- Unofficially, McGwire has had an influence on the Cardinals the past several offseasons, having worked extensively at his southern California home with outfielder-turned-second-baseman Skip Schumaker, helping to make Schumaker a .300 hitter. McGwire appears to have been less successful with outfielder Chris Duncan, another recent Cardinal who studied under McGwire, although Duncan's recent injury history has had a significant effect on his career.
But there was one other 2009 Cardinal who has sought and received McGwire's instruction for the past two offseasons. Matt Holliday, who was with Colorado and then Oakland, has spent considerable time trying to learn how to be a better hitter with McGwire's help and, as a pending free agent, perhaps might be more influenced to stay with the club, knowing that McGwire would be his hitting instructor all year long.
So, let's see ... We've got three examples:
Schumaker seems to have become a good hitter in 2007, at the ripe age of 27. If he worked with McGwire before that season, we can chalk that one up as a win for Big Mac.
Duncan has gone in the other direction, and that doesn't go down as a win for anyone.
And then there's Holliday, who has been a fine hitter in each of the past two seasons. Oddly, though, his best season came just before he turned to McGwire. At least according to Hummel, who has Holliday working with McGwire for the first time after the 2007 season ... and 2007 is clearly Holliday's best season.
Evaluating a hitting coach is close to impossible. Evaluating an unofficial hitting coach who has worked with just a few players is impossible. But the Cardinals were particularly impatient this season, and when McGwire played he was particularly patient. If just a tiny percentage of McGwire's patience rubs off on his new charges, he'll better than most.
And then, of course, there's the gorilla in the room. I don't believe that McGwire owes us -- not me, not you, not Murray Chass or any other baseball writer -- any sort of apology or explanation. But that probably won't be a unanimous opinion, so he probably needs to hold one of those humiliating news conferences, say what he wants to say, and then speak of the elephant no more.