It’s now been nearly a month since Dave Hansen was canned as Dodger hitting coach, and the only movement we’ve had since then is finding out that Mickey Hatcher will not be getting the position. It’s not official yet, but now we know who is close to replacing Hansen… and boy, is it a name:
Mark McGwire, who has served as Cardinals hitting coach for three seasons under two managers, has informed the club that he intends to accept a similar position with the Los Angeles Dodgers, sources familiar with the situation told the Post-Dispatch this afternoon.
Though a deal between the Dodgers and McGwire is not considered final, McGwire has told the Cardinals that he does not anticipate accepting their offer of a contract extension.
The club last week tendered offers to all coaches except bullpen coach Dyar Miller. The staff’s contracts exprired Oct. 31.
McGwire is leaning toward accepting the position with Dodgers manager Don Mattingly‘s staff because of geography. McGwire and his family live in Orange County and McGwire has long emphasized the role his wife and children play in career decisions.
My first thought? Well, to be honest, it’s exactly the same as that of the esteemed Bob Timmermann: oh holy good lord, the righteous columns this is going to spawn from tools like Bill Plaschke & T.J. Simers. “Teh steroidz! Whut sort uf exzampel iz dis setting fer er kidz?!” And so on.
But forget them – if this happens, would it be a good thing? I think the answer is… we can’t say for sure. I’ve long felt that it’s nearly impossible to measure the impact of hitting coaches. We went over this with Hansen; just a year after being the golden boy after replacing Jeff Pentland, he lost his job because he couldn’t get a team destroyed by injury to hit. For every Dwayne Murphy, who gets credit for fixing Jose Bautista in Toronto, you get dozens of other examples of players who just couldn’t be helped. So right up front, I’ll say that the success of the Dodger offense in 2013 relies far more on the health of Matt Kemp and friends than it does on any hitting coach.
Still, that doesn’t mean we can’t draw any conclusions. Obviously, McGwire was known as a power hitter over his 16-year career, but he was also a patient one, drawing 80 or more walks nine times. As a coach, he’s helped David Freese, Allen Craig, & Yadier Molina blossom into quality hitters, though he was unable to sort out Colby Rasmus. The season before he became the coach, the Cardinals finished 19th (2009) in wOBA; in his three seasons there, it was 16th (2010), 5th (2011), and 6th (2012) – though I’d caution against reading too much into that because of the changing rosters.
This lengthy USA Today report from last October paints his work in a positive light:
McGwire knows veterans such as Pujols and Holliday have their own routines, and he hasn’t tried to change them. “He gives you as much as you want,” Holliday said. “If you want advice or need him to watch something, he’s really good at that.”
His pet project, he said, is the youngsters.
Freese, in his second full season, has battled injuries both years but is having a breakout postseason, batting .425 with four homers and 14 RBI in 11 games.
“He’s a huge reason why I’ve been able to do what I’m doing,” Freese said. “He keeps it simple. He knows me as a hitter. He can jump on things real quick — mechanically, mentally, confidence-wise.”
Craig, who played particularly well when Holliday was sidelined with a hand injury down the stretch, said he and McGwire worked together in California last offseason.
“When I get a little out of whack, he’s right there to tell me,” said Craig, who is expected to be the Cardinals DH when the series moves to Texas.
Of course, we’re avoiding the elephant in the room, and that’s that McGwire’s career – and potentially his Hall of Fame chances – was tarnished by his use of PEDs, which he finally admitted in early 2010, shortly before beginning his first season as the St. Louis hitting coach. Yeah, it’d make it more difficult for Dodger fans to launch Melky Cabrera taunts at their Giant counterparts, but if you’ve read me for any period of time, you know that I’ve never quite been able to muster up the moral outrage about it all. Either way, it shouldn’t matter here; anyone who makes the “if Dodger hitters do well, it’s because McGwire is slipping them something” joke is just taking the lazy way out.
We’ll still need to wait for this to be official, of course, and I can’t say I really have a horse in this either way. If it ends up happening, as it seems it will? I’m really fine with it… especially if it allows me to keep posting this: