“The fact he was so honest [about steroids] when he got to spring training [in 2010] — he sat there for three days and took questions until no one had any more — he exhausted that chain of questions,” Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak said. “Now, when you see him in season or under the microscope here, he’s available” to the media.
It is impossible to know precisely the extent of a coach’s influence. The players are the performers. They deserve the credit. But the Cardinals’ team batting average has gone up in each of McGwire’s two seasons as hitting coach, as has their total number of walks, while their strikeouts have gone down. This year, the Cardinals had the highest batting average and OPS (on-base plus slugging percentages) in the National League, as well as the fewest strikeouts.
St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa defended his star first baseman, Albert Pujols, a day after he wasn't available to talk to the media following the team's one-run loss to the Texas Rangers in Game 2 of the World Series. (Oct. 21)
Ron Washington, the manager of the Texas Rangers, says he expects his team to erupt for some big innings in the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. The best-of-seven series is knotted at one game each as it moves to Texas. (Oct. 21)
“That’s not a coincidence,” said Cardinals third baseman David Freese, who grew up in Missouri and had a poster of McGwire on his bedroom wall during the memorable summer of 1998. “I know for me, he’s a big reason I’m able to do what I’ve done. He knows me as a hitter. He keeps it simple. He can jump on [flaws] real quick — mechanical, mental, confidence-wise.”
A big part of being a coach is subordinating one’s ego in the interest of others. A hitting coach often carries the bucket of balls from the equipment room to the batting cage. He grabs a knee and soft-tosses to his hitters whenever they ask. He arrives early, stays late. For McGwire, this came easily, Cardinals insiders say, because he is shy by nature and was always uncomfortable with stardom.
“He never makes it about himself,” Freese said.
Naturally, McGwire has formed a special bond with Albert Pujols, the Cardinals’ slugging superstar, whom McGwire first met when the latter was a 21-year-old rookie in 2001. Ten years later, Pujols, who is in his final days before reaching free agency, is widely acknowledged as the premier hitter of his generation, and his 445 career home runs are only 138 behind McGwire.
“Number 5 is probably the strongest person mentally I’ve ever been around,” McGwire said of Pujols. “This year, with all the stuff he had to deal with in spring training — free agency, not doing the contract [extension], getting off to a sort of a rough start, and having injuries and dealing with everything he had to deal with — for him to put up the numbers he did you have to be strong mentally.”
And then McGwire got on a roll, talking about Pujols as a rookie (“It’s not hard to recognize greatness,” McGwire said), the importance of the mental side, the craft of hitting, the art of finding the right pitch to hit. It seemed as if he could have gone on about it forever.