This spring, former St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire has once again chosen to remain out of the spotlight, even as Tony La Russa continues to encourage him to return to the game. Now, his former manager has upped the ante on the heels of McGwire’s failed 2009 Hall of Fame candidacy and eroding voter support.
Knowing this story has not yet reached its conclusion, La Russa is now publicly advocating an approach to unlock the ex-slugger’s moribund Hall chances that I have pushed for years – speak up for yourself, Mark!
Having played the role of McGwire’s chief public defender since the player went underground following his embarrassing March 2005 Congressional testimony, La Russa has finally suggested the player answer questions about his past – precisely what Big Mac wouldn’t do four years ago.
Since then, the baseball landscape has changed with the Mitchell Report, enhanced testing and other players able to move on after admitting various PED-related activities in their pasts. Yet McGwire remains silent in his self-imposed purgatory.
Again this spring, La Russa invited McGwire to be a spring training coach, which would also offer the vehicle for McGwire to clear the air – the familiar and comfortable environment of the Cardinals complex in Jupiter, Florida, where access can be controlled.
In Monday’s New York Times, La Russa said this:
“I think if he came to spring training and was seen, so the writers and the fans could say, ‘There’s Mark,’ and answer whatever they want,” La Russa said, “I think that would go a long way, in my opinion.”
However, once again, McGwire has declined to come to Florida with the Cardinals in 2009. Undaunted, La Russa vowed to keep inviting him every year. With 12 more possible years on the HoF ballot, apparently McGwire is in no hurry.
Mac is still out there in the shadows. As recently as this past weekend’s Winter Warm-up fan fest, outfielder Skip Schumaker acknowledged his winter regimen includes hitting with McGwire in California. The ex-Cardinal told La Russa he is still in playing shape today, not that it matters anymore.
Big Mac’s long-time skipper reaffirmed his Hall support of his ex-player, noting the retired slugger’s numbers make him worthy.
“I believe this: His production, I think, is Hall of Fame quality,” La Russa asserted.
Of course, even Tony knows the real issue isn’t about numbers; it’s about refusing to discuss the past.
“If it’s a question of what did he do to make himself stronger that wasn’t legal, and that’s kind of a character-and-integrity issue,” La Russa said. “If it’s a character-and-integrity issue, how many guys do we know who did what Mark did?”
La Russa went on to cite the example of McGwire walking away from the game with money remaining on his contract as a character reference, as if that would somehow magically negate the steroid allegations.
Coach Dave McKay’s strength and conditioning programs were also again defended by the manager, asserting McKay ran a “100 percent straight” workout program in Oakland. Yet in what seems to be a moderation of past comments, La Russa admits lack of 24-hour supervision meant all may not have been known.
“Now, as José (Canseco) said, when you go to the toilet or you leave the ballpark, Dave didn’t control that,” La Russa said.
Previously, La Russa’s platform was that neither he nor his coaches saw any questionable activity by McGwire and because Mac said he was innocent, therefore he was. Instead, the above comment seems much more realistic, as any parent of teenagers might attest.
Speaking of control, there isn’t any more La Russa can do to control Hall of Fame voters to alter their lack of support of McGwire. With the exception of one or two comments perhaps, Tony has made these same points in defending McGwire many times.
For the first time in my recollection, and I have followed this story closely for some time, La Russa has publicly urged McGwire to clear the air.
I say “bravo” to that. McGwire belongs in the Hall, but it doesn’t look like he is going to get there unless he takes responsibility for change.