McGwire talks about teaching hitting

Since his appearance before a congressional hearing on the use of steroids in baseball, retired slugger Mark McGwire has made few public appearances and rarely spoken with the media.

That silence was broken on Friday, as McGwire, in an interview with The New York Times, discussed his recent work as a hitting instructor with four current major league players -- Matt Holliday and Bobby Crosby of the Oakland Athletics, and Chris Duncan and Skip Schumaker of the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Times said McGwire agreed to the interview "with the understanding that it would focus on his work as a hitting tutor, and not on other issues."

McGwire did briefly address criticism he has received for being linked to performance-enhancing drugs. "I'm such an easygoing guy," he said, according to the Times. "I don't need to sweep away any bitterness."

McGwire took himself out of the public eye after he retired in 2001 with 583 career home runs. That withdrawal became nearly total in 2005, after McGwire -- implicated in former teammate Jose Canseco's book as a steroid user -- infamously declined to answer questions from congressmen about whether he used steroids, repeatedly saying, "I'm not here to talk about the past."

Before all of that, McGwire had talked about someday returning to the game as a coach, and nearly attended spring training in 2008 at St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa's behest before a family situation intervened, according to the Times. La Russa managed McGwire in Oakland and St. Louis and has remained one of his most loyal defenders in baseball.

Although McGwire had been interested in coaching, he rarely did so as a player, he said, according to a phone interview with Times reporter Karen Crouse.

"I very rarely talked about my swing when I played," McGwire said to the Times. "Really, not that many people asked. It's really interesting to try to talk about it with hitters. It was so enlightening to work with the guys over the winter and see how their minds work. It was neat when you can see the light bulb go off."

Duncan was the first person McGwire worked with in 2007. Schumaker, who hit .302 last season, credits McGwire for his success at the plate. This year, Holliday joined in the offseason workouts and brought along Crosby, his new Oakland teammate. "I just texted Mark and asked him if he wanted to hit," Holliday said, according to the report. "That's how it started."

Holliday said he's not worried that his working with McGwire might affect his reputation. "I wouldn't ever not want to have somebody in my life that could be a good friend or somebody I could really enjoy or learn from based on what other people might think about it," he said, according to the Times.