General : : Professional
Friday, January 08, 2010

Now Batting for St. Louis: Mark McGwire?

Jim Ecker        

Imagine it’s the seventh game of the 2010 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Yankees. The game is tied, 3-3, in the bottom of the ninth at Busch Stadium and up to the plate strides (drum roll please) none other than Mark McGwire.

It could happen.

In case you missed the news, St. Louis Manager Tony La Russa said he’s toying with the idea of putting McGwire on the 25-man roster by Aug. 31 if the Cardinals are in contention for the playoffs, thus making him eligible for postseason games. It’s no joke. La Russa is serious.

“If we’re in contention, we’ll put him on the roster Aug. 31,” he said in a newspaper interview. “It’s a nice little dream.”

La Russa has already hired McGwire as the team’s new hitting coach. The next step, apparently, would be to make him a player/coach, which has been done before in the major leagues. There even have been player/managers, so it’s not unprecedented.

On the other hand, McGwire is 46 years old. If he appears in the 2010 World Series, he’d be 47. He retired from baseball after the 2001 season with 583 home runs, currently tied for eighth-best in MLB history with Alex Rodriguez. Could a 46-year-old man come out of retirement after eight-plus seasons and hit a major league fastball or slider? Don’t bet on it.

It’s fun to speculate, however, and that might be what motivated La Russa to raise the possibility. Remember, McGwire has never answered questions about his alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs during his career, but La Russa knows his new hitting coach will have to face the media in spring training this year. Maybe La Russa is trying to change the conversation, trying to steer reporters in a different direction, away from steroids and toward the possibility of McGwire playing again.

La Russa is a smart man, with a law degree. Maybe he’s just trying to distract the judge and jury.

McGwire has acknowledged he used androstenedione, which was defined in 2004 as a steroid. Keep in mind, however, that Andro (as it’s called) was not illegal in baseball when McGwire was playing, so technically he didn’t break the rules. The stain hangs over his head, however, as vividly demonstrated by the paltry support he received again this year in balloting for the Hall of Fame. The man who hit 70 home runs in 1998 and 583 in his career has been treated like a journeyman instead of a giant.

That Hall of Fame voting is a joke, by the way. There are plenty of guys in the Hall of Fame who “cheated” during their careers, in one form or another. Pitchers doctored the baseball, hitters corked their bats, managers put spies in the scoreboard to steal signs. It’s part of the “charm” of the game, if you will. There are lots of scoundrels in Cooperstown, so what’s a few more?

They should open the doors to the Hall of Fame to McGwire, Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and others. Yes, some players were on the juice. And yes, Rose bet on games when he was the manager in Cincinnati. What they did was wrong, but you cannot ignore their great accomplishments. Be honest about it. Put something on their plaque in Cooperstown about what they did and let fans make their own decisions. Just say, “Pete Rose is the all-time hits king .. and he bet on games.” How can you have a Hall of Fame without the guy who collected more hits than anyone else in baseball?

Incidentally, they’ll have to take McGwire off the Hall of Fame ballot in 2010 if he actually ends his retirement and returns to the game as an active player. You normally have to be retired for five years before getting on the ballot, although they made an exception for the late, great Roberto Clemente.

La Russa might be a genius, or he might be delusional, but he’s created a great topic for the hot stove league this winter by suggesting McGwire might play again. Imagine him coming to the plate in the bottom of the ninth in the 2010 World Series, the score tied, 3-3, to face Mariano Rivera. Here’s the pitch, McGwire swings and, and, and .. Fill in your own blanks.


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