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Cardinals hire Mark McGwire

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McGwire hired as Cards hitting coach

Slugger returns to baseball for first time since '01 retirement

By Matthew Leach / MLB.com

10/26/09 7:06 PM ET

ST. LOUIS -- After seven silent seasons away from the game, Mark McGwire is making his return to baseball. The slugger is taking over as the Cardinals' hitting coach, agreeing to a one-year contract to replace Hal McRae.

McGwire, 46, retired after the 2001 season with 583 home runs, including a then-single-season record 70 as a member of the Cardinals in 1998. Since then, he has kept almost entirely out of the public eye, rarely speaking to the media and declining repeated invitations to join the Cardinals as a Spring Training instructor. Now he accepts a full-time job with high expectations.

At a news conference to announce the re-signing of manager Tony La Russa as well as McGwire's hiring, McGwire himself was not present. The club said he will address reporters in the near future, likely via conference call. In the meantime, club officials were happy to speak for him.

"He has a really good approach that's fundamental," La Russa said. "There are some differences to what he's teaching, but he's got the whole thing. The mechanics, the power of the mind, the understanding that you need to prepare with a lot of hard work. So I asked him. It's a good time in his life. His kids are now in school and his wife wants him to do it. He agreed to do it."

During a heavily attended news conference, many of the questions about McGwire centered not on his aptitude as a coach, but rather on the scrutiny that has long followed him regarding suspicions of steroid use. McGwire acknowledged use of the steroid precursor androstenedione in 1998 and later publicly announced that he would take it no more.

However, he has been accused of the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs, most prominently in "Juiced," a tell-all book by former teammate Jose Canseco. McGwire famously declined to address whether he did or did not use any such substances when he appeared before a Congressional committee in 2005.

Club officials acknowledged that McGwire will have to face the media, but offered no blueprint for how they expect McGwire to proceed. All who spoke -- a group that included La Russa, general manager John Mozeliak and the team's principal owner, Bill DeWitt Jr. -- downplayed any potential distractions or downside to the hiring of McGwire.

"There was never a discussion or a point to be made with him about, 'Oh, keep me away from the media' or anything like that," DeWitt said. "It was, 'Here's what I'm going to do, I'm looking forward to getting back to St. Louis.' He loves the game. He loves the Cardinals. And it's a great opportunity for him and a great opportunity for us. He's been out of the game a number of years. All of the sort of ancillary things that are brought up, he knows that at some point, he's going to have to face up to it. But I think once he does that, he'll move forward."

DeWitt said that Commissioner Bud Selig received the news of McGwire's return warmly. Mozeliak said he had no hesitation whatsoever when McGwire's name was brought up.

"I'm thrilled," Mozeliak said. "When Tony first called me last week, I somewhat thought he was even kidding me. Because it just didn't seem like it was plausible. We've debated this whole 'come to Spring Training' [matter] every now and then, but now to actually go full-time and have a commitment from Day 1 is something that I thought was great."

McRae served five seasons as the St. Louis batting instructor, but came under fire late in 2009, when a lineup bolstered by trades remained quiet down the stretch and in the playoffs. The Cardinals were held to six runs in a three-game Division Series sweep at the hands of the Dodgers.

Mike Aldrete, who served as a non-uniformed assistant hitting coach under McRae, will return in that same role. La Russa, Mozeliak and DeWitt all spoke highly of McRae, with La Russa noting that McRae hopes to continue coaching. Left unsaid was whether McRae would have been brought back for another season if McGwire had not been brought on board.

"I hadn't gotten to that point with the coaching staff," La Russa said.

Still, the belief is that McGwire, known primarily as a slugger, will be able to add a great deal to the Cardinals' lineup. Though he batted .247 with a .356 on-base percentage in his first seven Major League seasons, he hit .279 with a .430 OBP over the remainder of his career. At his power peak from 1996-2000, McGwire hit for average as well -- batting .291 during those five seasons.

"He's been hired to be our hitting coach because he can help our offense be better," said La Russa, who managed McGwire for the vast majority of his career. "What I think that you will see is, if you don't know this ahead of time you will be surprised some. You will be very impressed with his work ethic. That's one of the reasons I was a staunch supporter of his. Nobody, including Albert [Pujols], has worked harder than Mark McGwire since the first day that he realized, early in his career, that if you want to be great, you need to work."

McGwire has worked in recent offseasons with several current and former Cardinals, including Skip Schumaker, Chris Duncan and Matt Holliday.

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