UCB Roundtable: Mark McGwire as hitting coach, a circus?

by on November 5, 2009 · 1 comment

This one fell into my lap, and who am I to not to jump at the chance to get everyone’s feelings…

The Monday (10.26) night Radio Show was just the start, and the UCB crew takes a lot of pride in our work. With that being said, how much of a circus is it going to be with Big Mac in the fold for the 2010 campaign?

Don’t hold back now — honesty scores bonus points!

Dan (C70) — Honestly? I think it still depends.

If McGwire will come out, answer questions, and really make an attempt to handle the issue, I think it’ll die out along the way. Probably some story in the local paper each time the Cardinals hit a new town, but that’s about it.

If not, though, it’ll be pretty nuts. People will continue to be digging, trying to find info, asking him about it. That’s why I’m not 100% sure Mac is going to make it to spring training. If he’s not ready to talk, he’s going to have a lot of misery coming his way.

Jay (Inside Pulse) — The misery won’t only be for McGwire; imagine Tony’s post game new conference for the first month. Some media members would be willing to ask about it until Tony loses it, possibly even after that point. We’d hear the question posed to a different player each day until the All Star break.

My gut tells me the first thing we’ll hear from Mac is “I’m not here to talk about the past…” We’ll then be in for a long season.

Pip (Fungoes) — Although TLR and the Cardinals deserve every bit of distraction that McGwire brings, the distraction may not be as intense as it should be because of the dynamics of the establishment media. While some intrepid reporters may press the issue, many will not, simply because they require ongoing access and patronage of people like La Russa and the players, many of whom will likely stand in lockstep solidarity with McGwire. Furthermore, other than the desire to get a scoop, many of those covering the game are usually not motivated by a cause, per se; they are, after all, in large part the ones who created the monster and perpetuate the problem through a kind of moral populism.

On the other hand, even if the media crush is less-than-warranted, given the relative haste of the decision — according to TLR, McGwire agreed less than a week after first being asked — it would not be surprising if McGwire isn’t the opening-day hitting coach, as Daniel noted. Questions as to the history of his own success as a player are certainly on the table now that he has been hired in an official capacity to instruct players on hitting, and surely some will ask difficult questions, even if obliquely, that may make McGwire question whether it is all worth it.

First among the questions that people should pose are follow-ups to McGwire’s proclamations during his congressional committee appearance. Here’s a starter list:

- You stated that “I will use whatever influence and popularity I have to discourage young athletes from taking any drug that is not recommended by a doctor.” What have you done in the last four years to make good on that pledge?

- You stated that “I am directing my foundation to concentrate its efforts to educate children regarding the dangers of performance enhancing drugs.” What has your foundation done in the last four years to make good on that pledge?

- You stated that “I am also offering to be a spokesman for Major League Baseball and the Players Association to convince young athletes to avoid dangerous drugs of all sorts.” What have you done, and why haven’t you been more visible?

- Now that you have a job in major-league baseball as a coach, is it fair to ask you to go on the record about whether you used steroids as a player? If not, why not?

- Did you use steroids and/or other PEDs as a player? If so, which and when?

To be clear, this isn’t about whether McGwire used PEDs. It’s about hypocrisy, integrity and respect for fans, issuing from individuals, a team and a major sports organization and corporation. Either the team and La Russa are oblivious to the schism that McGwire represents, in which case they are truly out of touch, or they are banking on fans not caring that much, in which case they hold fans with the same kind of contempt displayed by players such as Rick Ankiel when they offer condescending explanations about their own PED use. In any case, they have clearly decided that this hire is worth it. It’ll be up to those who care about integrity to press them on it.

In response to Pip, Michael (Whiteyball) — Will it be a circus? Yes, in the beginning. Obviously a lot depends on McGwire’s response to the media questioning. If he gets it over with (A-Rod, Petite, Giambi, Ankiel), this will be a minor footnote by midseason. If he doesn’t, it MAY be a circus, but after awhile it will probably die down too (it will just take longer). Remember though, he is not chasing records and is not a player out in front of the fans anymore. He will be more visible, but more along the lines of Dave Duncan (who rarely gives interviews) and not Tony LaRussa or Albert Pujols.

I have to respectfully disagree with Pip on several of his comments (which is rare).

I don’t think McGwire needs a full confession of everything he did to get past this. An apology, a vague reference of what he did (ala Giambi) and some show of humility would be enough to end the constant media speculation and put it behind him with a majority of the people. His employer (the Cardinals and MLB), coworkers (Cardinals) are what are important, and they seem to respect him and have moved past it. The fans are overwhelmingly supportive with over 80% in favor of the move (out of 6,000) in a recent pd poll (and he hasn’t even apologized), but fan (or even media) support doesn’t matter as much for a coach.

Don Hooten has stated that McGwire has given a lot of money through his foundation to the Taylor Hooton Foundation and fulfilled that promise to Congress. While he looked foolish on capitol hill and took the most heat, he now looks like the only player who didn’t lie (but didn’t incriminate himself in a court of law). What he probably did is still bad. It’s obvious that he has done something wrong and that taints his accomplishments as a player, but we are talking about a different job.

Pip’s right in a lot of ways. It is fair to question why he hasn’t used his influence or popularity to discourage young people not to use steroids. On the surface it doesn’t look like he’s done enough. Are the questions the critics are asking fair? Yes, and the answers would be very interesting and enlightening. Let’s put this in perspective though. I don’t need to know if my co-worker did cocaine 10 years ago, and if my employer is fine with it, it’s a non-issue. Would it be nice if my colleague went to schools and talked about the dangers of cocaine? Yes. Do I believe this solely defines him as a person or a contributor to my company? No.

Some people need full disclosure to get past this, but they are in the minority. While the PED issue should be taken into consideration, I think it is a bit much to infer that how he and the sports world handle it defines their integrity. The steroid issue is just a portion of who McGwire is as a person (and the league as a whole) and he can still be a contributor to the organization after making a mistake. Good and talented people do bad things, and they shouldn’t be shunned for life for it. Admitting his demons in public would be nice (especially since he pledged to help fight the issue), but it is not necessary to do this job.

Back at ya Michael, Pip (Fungoes) — Although I already responded, since this is a roundtable discussion, would a rejoinder be out of order? ;) If so, disregard everything that follows!

First, don’t read what I’m not writing. I never call for full disclosure, per se. If McGwire can somehow address the concerns I listed, the “gory” details are not necessary. As a demonstration of his sincerity and humility, however, McGwire isn’t in a position to consider much out of bounds; he forfeited the right to pick and choose what questions he’ll be asked. Also, I (nor anyone whom I know who shares my opinion) never claimed that McGwire needed to address the issue in order to be able to do his job, that talented people don’t do bad things, that he can’t contribute after making a mistake, that a mistake defines him or that he should be shunned for life. These are straw men.

Michael is right insofar as my sentiment is probably in the minority. But his characterization of my position as, essentially, needing a pro formal apology/confession to be satisfied or, more crassly, to shut up and move on (my words, not his) is inaccurate. Such a stance of humility is indeed a welcome and necessary part of what needs to happen, but only insofar as it is the means to a greater end of baseball taking the problem — which they’ve given so much lip service to — seriously and not continuing to take fans for willing dupes (which, if the P-D poll representatively shows, they are).

Finally, Michael’s analogy of his hypothetical co-worker who did cocaine but whose employer is fine with it is in-apt. The difference — and if you miss this, you miss my main point — is that the employer has not made great public demonstrations of concern and regret along with promises to rid the workplace of cocaine use.

Game on Pip, Michael (Whiteyball) — Great topic for debate!

I think Pip and I are more alike in our analysis than I first thought, but we still have differing issues…

I now see that you (Pip) were looking for the hard questions to be asked, not necessarily for them to be answered. We are in agreement on this. I do take slight umbrage to the straw man comment though. Many critics do not feel Mark McGwire deserves the chance to be the Cardinals hitting coach due to the PED issue or that he MUST open up about his mistake in order for him to take the job. That may not be what you were inferring (and I apologize if you felt I was diverting attention from your arguments), but I think my comments are apt to the discussion (I wasn’t just debating your comments!).

I do need clarification on some of what I misunderstood, though. You stated that “It’s about hypocrisy, integrity and respect for fans, issuing from individuals, a team and a major sports organization and corporation.” Since you stated that the issue “was not about PED’s” in your previous statement, I assume you mean (by “it”) the issue of Mark McGwire as coach. Again, if the “it” does not mean PED’s I assume that you are talking about him not coming forward with more information (what other issue is about hypocrisy, integrity and respect for fans… etc?).

Further quote: “In any case, they have clearly decided that this hire is worth it. It’ll be up to those who care about integrity to press them on it.” I assumed from this that you meant the hire wasn’t worth it due to PED’s or his non-statements, but you could mean that we need to be critical of any hire and not blindly follow their statements. With this I agree, but what about the “integrity” comment? Why do you have to care about morale character to press the Cardinals on if the hire is worth it, unless we are talking about PED’s or McGwire’s non statements?

Finally, I think you are diverting my analogy a bit on the workplace. Our debate is if Mark McGwire should be the hitting coach. The reasons against (so far) have been about his past drug use, the media circus this would provide and his experience. Experience is open to debate and I already discussed the fact that I thought the media circus would die down by midseason.

If the employer is “the league”, haven’t they already “made great public demonstrations of concern and regret along with promises to rid the workplace” of PED’s? Furthermore, my analogy wasn’t about how the employer reacts to the person with past cocaine abuse, but the opportunities the individual is allowed. (Two separate issues).

If you aren’t hiring McGwire due to his past PED use, then you are in essence ignoring all of his other traits for one mistake (again, an apt analogy to the discussion, maybe not to your views). This has nothing to do with the employer showing remorse for turning a blind eye or educating the company on the evils of cocaine. How does the employer’s public demonstration of concern factor into Mark McGwire as hitting coach? Does the league have to demonstrate FURTHER concern about PED’s in order to hire Mark McGwire? I agree that the league was just as culpable as the users, but isn’t that a different topic?

P.S. You are right, I don’t want you to “shut up and move on”. Someone needs to ask the tough (but fair) questions, and I believe you are doing this. We just disagree on the details. Pip responded back with “Ha, yes, indeed! What’s your deadline again, Josh? ;) Michael and I could do a http://bloggingheads.tv/ discussion on this!”

[Ed. Note -- Pip, you can continue debating as long as you want in the comments!]

Mike (Stan Musial’s Stance) — The interesting thing about this is most hitting coaches are anonymous. I can’t think of a single one who conducts press interviews or interacts with the media at any kind of a consistent or visible level. Most hitting coaches work in the shadows and rarely step into the media limelight.

Obviously this doesn’t apply to McGwire, because of who he is, what he did in baseball, and what’s been alleged since. The opinions expressed in this thread are correct, in that the buzz and fury around him will continue to build until he addresses the steroid questions.

The thing that bothers me about all this is there’s only one way the buzz and fury will go away – and that’s if McGwire admits, either obliquely or directly, he used PEDs during his career. Most media commentators, especially those who work for the Post-Dispatch, believe he used. What if he actually didn’t? Call me naive or delusional if you want to, that’s fine; a certain amount of circumstantial evidence indicates he used. But what if he didn’t, forcefully and emotionally makes his case to convince us all he didn’t, and never wavers from that position all of 2010? In that case, the buzz/fury never goes away, because those who believe he used will stop at nothing to prove he did (jilted lover syndrome).

To get beyond the PED questions, he’d better be a helluva hitting coach. I see the media circus becoming a Cat 5 hurricane before spring training and not diminishing/weakening the whole season long.

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Loyal to a fault, I was taught to never give up on your team. The Cardinals have much to look forward to in '13, and my family has already planned a number of trips to Springfield and even farther up the I-44. This year will start and end with #6, however, as St. Louis will have an extra fan watching from above - RIP Stan the Man
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