In participation with a United Cardinal Bloggers roundtable, we asked the question: On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “ho-hum” and 10 being “the sky is falling,” how significant is the departure of hitting coach Mark McGwire?
Following is an edited version of the roundtable transcript:
Big Mac has 3 great things going for him: His hitting ability, his love of the game and also his desire to teach. We know this due to his playing career and also what he had to endure to get back into the game when he could have just disappeared into the night.
To answer the question, I’ll say a 5. It’s 50-50 and really hard to predict the impact. The most important hitting instruction for players takes place well before the MLB level. If and when a player reaches St. Louis, he already knows how to use his tools and talent. The hitting coach just has to find a way to continue to harness that and maintain a confidence level while the player learns how to adjust at the MLB level. It’s up to the player whether or not to buy in. I’m not overly concerned and wish Mark the best. I’m glad he was able to put the steroid stuff behind him and get a chance to win a World Series as a coach here and now continue to teach while being close to his family.
Closer to a 4 in my opinion. I remember reading, in some of the postgame quotes after the NLDS, that McGwire was very helpful in noticing the way the guys were swinging early on in Game 5 before the rally started. John Mabry will be good, but I’d like for them to get a solid assistant hitting coach, too. Maybe a Jim Edmonds, although I think a right-handed hitting coach would be essential, too.
I really liked having Mark McGwire around because it’s always been nice how open the Cardinals are to keeping former players in the fold. The guys I used to root for on the field become the guys I root for in the dugout, and that creates a sense of continuity and familiarity. I also think McGwire did a credible job as the team’s hitting coach; the offense flourished under his direction. That said, McGwire is far from the sole reason why this lineup gets the job done. Middle infield aside, the roster is loaded with talent at the plate, and I don’t think the offense misses a beat in 2013.
I wish Mark could have stuck around, but I get the need to be where he needs to be. I’ll miss him, but I think I rate his departure a four out of 10 when it comes to actual impact, and I’m not sure that’s even as low as it should be. When have we ever really cared when a coach left before? I think it’s our attachment to McGwire himself that makes this transition seem more daunting than it really is.
Brian Vaughan, StanGraphs
I think a 5. He’s good at giving the inside look if hitting, and the guys really like him. John Mabry will be a good hitting coach. We’re lucky to have him to take the vacant position so easily/quickly.
I think the impact of McGwire’s departure will be minimal. While I can appreciate what some have said regarding his ability to command attention and respect from hitters, there is one very obvious reason his word carried no more weight than anyone else’s. At the end of the day, hitters listen to coaches not because they are nice guys, pillars of their community or physically attractive. They listen because they want to succeed at the plate. That takes perspective, observation and practice. Mabry can offer all of those things the same way McGwire did. The numerous competent bats in the Cards lineup will hardly bat an eye (so to speak) under a different regime. I can think of a time recently where a Cardinal team lacked a McGwire but won a World Series just the same. Coaches change all the time, it’s not nearly as big of a deal as a change in manager.
I’ll give this a 6, because McGwire’s voice really carried some weight with the hitters. When a guy who hit 583 home runs and drove in 1,414 speaks of taking the ball up the middle and going opposite field, that work resonates a lot. During his career McGwire was famous for his work learning tendencies and studying opponents. His career .394 OBP implies that he knew when not to swing. As much as I expect Mabry to stick with a similar philosophy, I think he will cater to some hitters much more than others. I’m anxious to see how much input he can possibly have on a Matt Holliday or a Carlos Beltran.
Also, the Cardinals take a major step back in the “our hitting coach can kick your hitting coach’s ass” department. They do take a step forward in the “fangirling for attractive baseball dudes” area, though.
I give it a 3. He had results, but I believe many woulda/coulda had the same or nearly the same with this group of players. Mabry expects to continue what Mac has done. He was there to see a lot of what went on. Might make a difference on who is hired as assistant.
I think the Cards lost one of the better hitting coaches in baseball when they lost McGwire. Last year in the UCB postseason publication, I wrote about the job he’d done and what an improvement the team had seen under his guidance. Pretty much everything I said there still reflects how I feel today: It’s up to the hitters to execute at the plate, but Mac still “owns” the results. Imagine you’re giving McGwire his annual performance review, like you or I have in our jobs — you’ve got to rate the performance he was able to get out of his players.
That said, there were plenty of examples this year when the offense went missing — sometimes for days at a time. (See: 2012 NLCS games 5, 6, & 7.) This is a solid offense, capable of much, and while I do think Mac enhanced the lineup with his coaching, I don’t think there will be a noticeable decline in production without him. Mabry is very capable, and remember how many hitting coaches TLR went through in his time here.
Besides, Dave Duncan wasn’t around last year, and I think a pitching coach is much more valuable than a hitting coach. If you’re asking me to put a number on it (and you are), I’d say it’s probably a 4 or so. I say that because, when I think about “losing a hitting coach,” I don’t consider it a high-impact loss to the coaching staff. I think of it this way, if Ted Williams was a hitting coach and he left a team, I’d probably give that a 6. I just can’t imagine a scenario where (at least for me) the departure of a hitting coach registers that high on the scale.
Dathan Brooks, CRPS
Definitely no more than a 5, and that’s higher than the cynical side of me wants to go. The loss stings more for someone like me, who grew up in the era that featured McGwire shattering the single-season home run record with his mighty forearms and a bat that looked like a toothpick in his enormous hands. For me, the sight of McGwire in a Cardinal uniform is comforting somehow, and I’m trying to fight off a silly feeling of betrayal that he’s leaving after making a name for himself as a coach in St. Louis, even if his decision was strictly location based. Ultimately, the Cardinals have a team full of professional hitters, and it’s often been said the area McGwire truly excels in is the mental aspect of hitting. He isn’t irreplaceable by any means, but it’s sad to see him go.
I would say a 5. McGwire did good work, but I think what he started will definitely continue with Mabry in charge too.
Aaron Miles’ Fastball
I’d say it’s about a 4. McGwire made an impact on this team, I don’t deny that. So much so, in fact, that I expect Mabry to continue much of his work with the hitters. Add that to the fact that there are not going to be many new faces for Mabry to work with and it may be hard to remember McGwire’s gone save for the increase in TV time for Mabry.
Oh yeah, the hitting coach. Let’s put it this way: when was the last time you came running up to your buddies and said “this is the year, we just signed <insert hitting coach name here>” or “our chances are shot, we have to rely on <insert hitting coach name here>”? In addition, when did we credit a hitting coach with wins or anything positive?
Let’s face it, when things are wrong, a hitting coach gets fired and when things are right, we barely remember who it is. I will say that I heard more talk about the work McGwire did then I have about any other hitting coach without it being a negative “he destroyed my swing”.
Overall, I give his departure a 3 as far as the team goes, a 7 as far as the fan base goes. Fans loved having him here on this team. Players benefited from him. But there is a capable replacement and that’s all it really takes to move on from here.
Bill Ivie, I-70Baseball
I was thinking along similar lines, but perhaps from a different perspective. I was looking back at who the hitting coaches were in 64, 67, 68, 82, 85-87 to draw some parallels. Heck, in most of those years, there was no specific “hitting instructor”. But there was always George Kissell and ectoplasm of the Cardinal Way encasing all of those he instructed.
I appreciate how hard McGwire worked while a coach for the Cardinals. He honored the uniform and was a good ambassador for the organization. I suspect John Mabry will work just as hard, perhaps without the fanfare and attention (as Hal McRae did earlier).
I’m totally with Bill on this one. Actual impact is a 3. Maybe not so much with the fans as Mabry was a favorite and a good emissary of “The Cardinal Way”.