Tough to envision McGwire anywhere but St. Louis
There was no way I thought Mark McGwire would last with the St. Louis Cardinals as hitting coach when he was hired before the 2010 season. In addition to his 583 career home runs and 12 trips to the All-Star Game as a player, he had that issue with performance-enhancing drugs. Then he had his self-imposed seclusion away from the game.
McGwire also ranked near zero on baseball's all-time extrovert scale -- you know, if Tommy Lasorda is a perfect 10.
That's why I figured the media scrutiny resulting from McGwire's new role would send him back into the shadows in a hurry. And even if he did shock reality by staying as the Cardinals' hitting coach for a while, he surely wouldn't shine, would he?
I mean, would he?
McGwire did, and he did so brilliantly enough for three years that the rest of the National League needed shades to protect them from the glow produced by McGwire-led hitters for the Cardinals. No team in the NL had a higher overall batting average during McGwire's coaching tenure in St. Louis, and his hitters were tied for first in the league in runs scored during that three-year stretch.
Not coincidentally, the Cardinals won the World Series in 2011 with much help from McGwire, and they had enough clutch moments at the plate this season to reach Game 7 of the NL Championship Series.
All hail, McGwire, nearly as popular in his second coming to St. Louis as that little arch on the edge of downtown.
So the following is almost as shocking as McGwire's smooth transition from prolific slugger to private (extremely private) citizen to effective hitting coach: He is on the verge of taking his talents from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean.
The Cardinals offered McGwire a contract extension, but he declined, and he indicated to others that he wishes to join the Los Angeles Dodgers as their hitting coach for personal reasons. Such a move would place McGwire closer to Orange County, where his wife and children live.
It just sounds strange: McGwire? A Dodger?
He's a Cardinal. He'll always be a Cardinal. As long as he's involved in baseball, McGwire should remain with the Cardinals. And, yes, I know. He spent his opening dozen years in the Major Leagues with the Oakland A's compared to his five in St. Louis through 2001, but he became more prominent as a player with the Cardinals.
Not only that, the Cardinals gave McGwire a coaching opportunity that seemed ridiculous at the time.
For one, the traditionally successful hitting coaches haven't been guys with recognizable names to the public. Walt Hriniak comes to mind. The same goes for Charley Lau and Rudy Jaramillo.
Mark McGwire? Well, big-time sluggers don't have the expertise nor the patience for these types of things -- or so the conventional wisdom has gone through the years. Plus, there was his feel-good season of 1998 that became clouded by his various PED controversies.
Instead of folks recalling how McGwire joined Chicago Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa in a spirited chase of Roger Maris' record of 61 home runs for a season, they remembered how McGwire trembled throughout a Congressional hearing on steroids in Washington while repeating his mantra of "I'm not here to talk about the past."
Then McGwire vanished from the national spotlight after he retired following the 2001 season. He eventually surfaced out of nowhere about nine years later to announce through a written statement to the Associated Press that he actually did engage in steroid use.
Still, the Cardinals called, and Tony La Russa did the calling. He managed the A's when McGwire spent his first decade in the Major Leagues in Oakland starting in 1986. Nearly a decade later, during McGwire's five seasons as a player with the Cardinals, La Russa was his manager again. They continued their relationship, even after McGwire left the game for that long stretch, and when La Russa remained on track with the Cardinals to reach the Hall of Fame.
Then, in October 2009, La Russa made that call after ignoring McGwire's lack of coaching experience, the PED talk and the media-shy ways of his former player. Said McGwire to the AP after he became the Cardinals' batting coach: "I'm going to pour myself into this job."
He did. Big time. Matt Carpenter, David Freese and Allen Craig are among the many Cardinals players that McGwire transformed from young hitters to veteran ones in a flash.
Now McGwire is headed to the Dodgers, but you know what? It actually doesn't matter.
Courtesy of a Cardinals offense that was stimulated as much by McGwire's mind in recent years as it was by his bat in the past, he'll always be attached to Fredbird's feathery hips.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.