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La Russa returns - the interest, however, is in his batting coach

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 26, 2009 - The second I saw Buster Olney's report on ESPN on Sunday afternoon that Tony La Russa was returning as St. Louis Cardinals manager and bringing Mark McGwire with him as the team's new batting coach I knew Monday would be quite entertaining.

Monday did indeed start early, as I was asked to fill in on Pat Parris and Bryan Burwell's show on 101 ESPN with co-host Brian Stull. There's something about a 7 a.m. phone call that gets you moving, and this one was no different.

Parris and Burwell were among media members at Busch Stadium for an 11 a.m. press conference. So Stully and I were among St. Louis' first sports media members to get a crack at the McGwire situation.

Along with knowing that this would be no ordinary Monday in St. Louis, I knew a couple of other things.

  1. I figured there would be no chance of McGwire actually being at the press conference.
  2. I was sure that La Russa and other members of Cardinals' management would tap-dance around the questions of McGwire's alleged steroid use and his pitiful performance before Congress on March 17, 2005.
  3. I knew the team would put the onus on McGwire as to whether he will ultimately speak about steroids and his alleged use during his career in Major League Baseball.

I was three-for-three.
Yet, I still feel disappointed.

Sidestepping the issue will not make it go away. McGwire is tainted, and he will remain that way in many fans' eyes until he truly does step up to the plate and answer some difficult questions.

Alex Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte faced the music - in part because of the insistence of the New York Yankees franchise. They will both now play in the 2009 World Series pretty much without baggage because they put it out there that they indeed use performance enhancing drugs.

McGwire is dancing to another tune, at least for now. He was AWOL in my opinion at the press conference regardless of what La Russa says. He is not just another coach, Tony.

McGwire cannot try to bury his head in the sand and pull the ostrich routine

It won't work.

Cardinal Nation is split on this deal. From blogs, callers to talk shows and sports media members themselves, there seems to be a 50-50 split. Some say nay with a passion, some same yay with just as much force.

Here is my main concern, and it has nothing to do with steroids or the mum McGwire.

How Good Will McGwire Be?

My question is who said McGwire will be a good coach?

La Russa said it is his special talent as a hitter that will make him an excellent coach.

If that were the case, most coaches would be former star players. That's far from the truth. Not one of the Cards' current coaching staff was a perennial All-Star. In fact, most of them either didn't reach the Majors or played sparingly during brief careers.

McGwire never displayed the personality or temperament that led anyone who covered the Cardinals during his tenure to believe that he would be a good coach. In fact, it was just the opposite.

Yes, he has worked with some Cardinals and they like what he has done for them. But that's not an entire team over 162 games and an additional six weeks of spring training.

Does He Know How Much the Job Requires?

I also wonder if McGwire truly wants to put in the hours that La Russa will demand of him. No more golf during spring training for Big Mac. Is he ready for that? I don't think so.

Former Miami Dolphins quarterback and NFL Hall of Fame member Dan Marino was hired as team president a few years back and he lasted less than three days.

The reason he bolted was because he had no idea the number of hours he would have to put in to make a true difference with the franchise.

McGwire has no idea what he is getting into, and when you throw in the fact that every media hound in every city will want a part of him during road trips, his job will be even more difficult.

The 'S' Questions

McGwire's return to baseball also means that some journalists will again pursue factual or anecdotal evidence that McGwire used steroids - especially during the 70-home run season. Look for some new stories to pop on McGwire during the next year.

If there is any hope for McGwire as the Cards' hitting coach, he first has to deal with questions surrounding his use of steroids.

He still might not want to not talk about the past, but that past is now officially on the team payroll.

This potential powder keg could easily be diffused with a little truthful talk from McGwire.

Or the fuse could be lit for a season of endless explosions if the team tries to simply avoid the obvious.

Alvin A. Reid is editor of the St. Louis Argus and a weekend host on the new ESPN 101.1 FM. His weekly Major League Baseball - St. Louis Cardinals column, which is now published on The Beacon website, was honored by the Missouri Press Association as Best Sports Column in 2004 and 1999. He is co-author of the book, "Whitey's Boys: A Celebration of the 1982 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals" and was a member of the inaugural staff of USA TODAY Baseball Weekly. 

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