ST. LOUIS (AP) — The Cardinals can only hope their new batting coach will now cease to be a sideshow.
Mark McGwire’s admission of steroids use while shattering Roger Maris’ season home run record in 1998 was seen by many on the team as a first step toward rehabilitating a tattered image.
“I’m happy for him that he’s taken the platform to kind of change the last picture everybody saw of him, which was him sitting before Congress,” said catcher Mike Matheny, a teammate at the end of McGwire’s career in 2000-01. “He’s one of the few guys who didn’t stand up there and blatantly lie. There’s something to be said about that.
“There’s more to be said about standing up like a man and facing the music like he did today.”
General manager John Mozeliak was relieved the subject had finally been addressed.
“We knew this was going to be a difficult day, and it’s especially difficult for him,” Mozeliak said in a telephone interview. “I think you have to admire his courage and willingness to do this.”
McGwire likely will appear at the team’s annual Winter Warm-up promotion, which starts Saturday and runs for three days. That might give him the chance to apologize directly to fans.
By spring training, the team hopes, McGwire can slip into the background and do his job.
“Fortunately, as a hitting coach it’s not the same expectations as the manager has with a face-to-face commitment to the media,” Matheny said. “It’s out in the open now and he can go do his job, which is to help these guys out.”
Taking the job as Hal McRae’s replacement forced McGwire’s hand, although he took plenty of time crafting a statement after being hired in late October.
Even if all those tape-measure shots launched during baseball’s “Summer of Love” are now unofficially listed with an asterisk, La Russa spoke glowingly of McGwire’s qualifications as the team’s new batting instructor.
“No one on the teams I managed worked harder or better than Mark,” La Russa said. “And now his willingness to admit mistakes, express his regret, and explain the circumstances that led him to use steroids add to my respect for him.”
La Russa was McGwire’s manager virtually all his 16-year career in both Oakland and St. Louis. Also his fiercest defender, angrily circling the wagons after The AP reported that McGwire used androstenedione during his then-record 70-homer season in ’98. Andro, as it was known, was made a controlled substance until 2004, when it also was banned by baseball.
The manager said he didn’t know until Monday that McGwire used steroids, which weren’t banned by baseball until the year after McGwire’s retirement.
“I’ve defended Mark because I observed him develop his unique power hitting skill through a rigorous physical and fundamental workout program,” La Russa said. “He has a lot to offer our team as our hitting coach.”
Team chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said the 46-year-old McGwire did the “right thing.”
“No one condones what Mark did more than 10 years ago,” DeWitt said. “But we hired him as our hitting coach because we know there are many contributions that Mark can and will make to our team and to this game.
“I’m glad Mark has gone public and the Cardinals welcome him back as our hitting coach.”
Albert Pujols was a rookie in 2001 and is the lone former teammate still with the Cardinals. He declined comment on McGwire’s admission through his agent Monday, although recently he credited McGwire for helping him with concentration and focus.
Matt Holliday is among a handful of Cardinals who already have an idea of McGwire’s coaching style after hitting with him in southern California during the last offseason. McGwire said he called both Cardinals stars on Monday.
“I think he’ll do great. He’s a very good communicator,” Holliday said. “I think people are very interested to see what he has to say, and he’s someone I think everyone will respect.”
AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley in San Francisco contributed to this report.