After three seasons in St. Louis, where forgiveness came easy and maybe wasn't even necessary, Mark McGwire is a reasonable bet to become the next hitting coach in Los Angeles. That's close enough to home, where he was raised, went to college, lives and raises the next generation of McGwires.
Good for him. Good for his family. And good for the Dodgers. By all accounts, McGwire is gifted in teaching the mechanics and psyche required to navigate a big-league batter's box. Albert Pujols, for a decade the most talented hitter on the planet, adores Mark McGwire.
But, you know, there's that other thing.
By the time they open the batting cages at Camelback Ranch in Arizona, three years will have passed since McGwire transformed himself from victim of groundless accusations to victim of his surroundings. It was a neat trick, brought together live on television with heaving shoulders and soaked cheeks.
It wasn't the lying or the admission that so turned me off. It was McGwire's explanation for using whatever performance-enhancers he gulped or shot-up or whatever.
"Looking back," he said, "I wish I had never played during the steroid era."
Still gnaws at me, the lack of accountability. What bothered me then – that Bud Selig would take the rap for dozens, hundreds, thousands of men who chose to contaminate their bodies and sport – bothers me today. One brush dare not paint them all. McGwire was alone when he chose himself over the game, same as the rest. To hang Selig is to allow the shadows to run free.
McGwire is a grown man. We live with who we are. We live with our decisions. We wake up the next day, hopefully, and try harder. Hopefully. McGwire deserved the same second shot at choices, and deserved to win the next job on merit. In spite of my misgivings over the manner in which he came clean, I was pleased when the Cardinals hired McGwire and believe he'll do a fine job with the Dodgers, who last season underachieved as an offensive unit.
I'll bet the job feels good to McGwire. He has returned to the fundamental principles of the game, to the work that makes men good at it, and to the rewards that come from a purer body and spirit. I hope he takes satisfaction from the hours of soft toss spent with hitters limited by genetics and preparation. That he feels it's better without secrets. That there's value in fair and square, even if no one ever hits 70 home runs again.
He'll always be the guy who for a period took steroids and disrespected the game and suckered us all. That does not, however, have to be him. It did not have to be the last we heard of Mark McGwire, or who he is, or what he became.
Assuming the Dodgers hire him, the sight of McGwire in that uniform might startle the folks in Los Angeles. But, I think he will grow on them. He'll be the guy who shows up for work, puts in the time, connects with Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier, and makes the Dodgers better.
Yeah, it'll be strange. But the offense will grow. The Cardinals struck out less, walked more. They scored more. If McGwire wants to start over again, if he wants to be held to statistics that will reflect the job he's doing again, and for a new organization for which he's never so much as hit a home run, then good for him.
He's ready to leave the cocoon of St. Louis. He's able to be Mark McGwire, hitting coach.
He's ready to be accountable for that.
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