McGwire, Cardinals take shaky step forward

Tim Brown
Yahoo! Sports

Mark McGwire is his own man. The St. Louis Cardinals are their own organization.

They carried each other for a while going on a decade ago, making each other rich and relevant and, I don't know, complicit.

If they want to join up again, as they seem intent on doing, then they should have at it. They can continue covering for each other. Cardinals management extends a hand to a fallen man and what it seems to think is the best hitting coach available. McGwire shows the fellas how he used to hit 'em 480 feet. It's bliss.

Tony La Russa is pleased to have him back in the uniform. Bud Selig is terribly annoyed – sorry, "delighted" – to have him back in the game. McGwire, we can assume, is happy to be back among the employed. We have to assume, because he hasn't actually said anything yet, keeping alive his Ripken-ian streak that began That Day.

Funny thing about That Day, actually. It feels like yesterday. If the Cardinals or McGwire thought enough time has passed, that enough A-Rods and Mannys have come and gone to camouflage Big Mac, they miscalculated.

The mess remains. It'll slop up onto everyone, stain their sanitary socks, make them all a little grumpy, maybe even distract their repeat desires in the NL Central.

People have a tendency to pick at these things, you know. When a grown man is less than accountable, when he refuses to own his past, when he's fed a second chance and fails to see the gift in that, there will be no forgiveness. He'll still be the guy Jose Canseco was right about.

What you'd hope McGwire would understand is that there's no avoiding the pain. It's coming. He can take it a flick at a time for years and years, or he can take the hatchet to the neck, be done with it and maybe make something of this second career as a hitting coach. Up to him, entirely.

There are people who believe he can be good at this. Late in his career, some say, he became borderline obsessed with the mechanics of hitting a baseball, like Charlie Lau and Walt Hriniak, seeking ways to make the swing more efficient. He was passionate about it. And it's why he's spent time with players in the offseason, talking through the details, altering their approach. It didn't work for Matt Holliday(notes). Supposedly it worked for Skip Schumaker(notes). Chris Duncan(notes)? Eh.

But, it'll be different away from his garage and out in public, where people won't pretend the '90s and That Day didn't happen. You wonder why this would be worth the Cardinals' time. You wonder if he's so talented a hitting coach he's worth all of this. Could he possibly be? Is anyone?

Boone keeping options open

Aaron Boone(notes), who had open heart surgery on a Thursday morning in late March and played first base for the Astros on a Wednesday afternoon in early September, is among those who has filed for free agency, so perhaps we can hold off on those presumptions of retirement.

Boone, 36, is considering opportunities in at least one major league front office and in broadcasting, according to his agent, Adam Katz.

"He has not eliminated the possibility of playing in the right situation," Katz said. "I think he's wide open at this point. He's in good condition. His health is great. So, all avenues are being explored."

Gagne aims at one last shot

Last seen (or not) plotting his comeback with the Quebec Capitales of the independent Can-Am League, Eric Gagne(notes) hopes to return to the major leagues as a starting pitcher, which is how he arrived nearly 11 years ago.

After a rough beginning with the Capitales (Pete LaForest(notes) was his first baseman), Gagne finished 6-6 with a 4.65 ERA in 17 games, all starts. There, he developed a cutter, which he expects to be effective against lefties.

Gagne, who will be 34 in January, was in Los Angeles last month, even attending an NLCS game at Dodger Stadium. His wife and Russell Martin's(notes) girlfriend are sisters. Gagne told friends then his shoulder was healthy and that he wanted to take one more shot at the big leagues.

Sheets feeling up to par

Don't sleep on Ben Sheets(notes).

Nearly recovered from flexor tendon surgery, Sheets will report to spring training "100 percent healthy," his agent, Casey Close, said Thursday.

In making his pitch for his four-time All Star, Close recalled Andy Pettitte(notes) had similar surgery in 2004, when Pettitte was 32. Pettitte threw 222 1/3 innings and won 17 games in 2005, and has averaged well in excess of 200 innings a season since.

Sheets, 31, had the surgery nine months ago after pitching through severe pain with the Brewers. He's a gamer and a solid Comeback Player of the Year type.

Loose ends

Also …

Andruw Jones(notes) will be in someone's camp. He intends to return to winter ball to prove himself again. … Richie Sexson(notes), who twice hit 45 home runs and was out of baseball in '09, is hoping for a return. He'll be 36 next month. … While the Cubs merrily shop Milton Bradley(notes), teams such as the Rangers and Rays remain extremely wary of a contract they could not afford to swallow, and baggage they don't have room for.

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