The Cardinals’ hiring of Mark McGwire as hitting coach fascinates me. Beyond the obvious issue of PEDs (speaking of cheaters, I always thought Gaylord Perry would make a great pitching coach; it seems easier to teach a guy how to “win without his best stuff” than to throw a small spheroid 95 mph, but maybe that’s just me), McGwire hardly fits the “classical model” of a hitting coach.
Real or imagined classical models have nothing to do with his qualifications or whether he’ll succeed in that role, but when I think of hitting coaches, my mind drifts toward guys like Charley Lau and Walt Hriniak. I think more of line drives than of towering home runs. Then again, Lau and Hriniak weren’t exactly accomplished big-league hitters, so maybe what a guy did in his playing days doesn’t have a lot of bearing on what he does as a coach.
That being said, McGwire is not your father’s hitting coach. His approach, which led to strikeouts in more than 20% of career plate appearances, has been eschewed — for reasons that don’t make a whole lot of sense when you stop to look at them — by baseball men throughout much of the sport’s history.
In the current environment, where players like Adam Dunn, Ryan Howard, and Mark Reynolds are properly recognized as valuable contributors to a team’s offense, hiring McGwire makes perfect sense. Assuming, of course, he is capable of teaching what he himself knows.
Still, the mind wanders. I can see where McGwire might help, say, Ryan Ludwick, a hitter with a similar approach (if not consistently similar results). And I can imagine the conversations with Albert Pujols: “Looks great, Al; just keep doing what you’re doing.”
Where things could get fun is in McGwire’s tutelage of guys like Brendan Ryan and Skip Schumaker. “Yes, that’s good, but hit the ball harder,” McGwire might say. “Here, like this.” Then he’d grab a bat and swat a batting practice fastball 450 feet. “Okay, Brendan, now it’s your turn.”
I know it won’t go down like that, but wouldn’t it be fun if it did? Almost as much fun as having Gaylord Perry be your pitching coach, I’ll bet.