Back at Busch Stadium in St. Louis for the first time since taking the job as hitting coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Mark McGwire took time to answer questions from reporters following the Dodgers batting practice before Monday night's game.
The opening question, while to be expected, was not what McGwire was hoping for. With the steroids suspensions that were handed down earlier in the day by Major League Baseball, the first question brought up was in regard to performance enhancing drugs (PEDs).
"I was really hoping the first question would be 'how does it feel to be back in St. Louis?'" McGwire said.
So, that is what how he responded.
"It feels great to be here," McGwire said before really answering the opening question. "It really doesn't matter what I think. It matters what the players think and what I hear every day in the clubhouse, they are just happy it is coming to an end and that Major League Baseball is taking care of it."
Back in 2010, upon taking the job as hitting coach for St. Louis, McGwire admitted to taking PEDs during his playing career.
"I wish I was never a part of it," McGwire said. "Obviously I wish there were things in place earlier, but they were put in in 2003. I just really hope and pray that this is the end of it."
After several questions about PEDs, McGwire was finally asked what it is like to be back in St. Louis.
"It's always good," McGwire said. "I have great memories. It was great times. My wife's family is from this area, so it is always nice to come back here. I have never been in the visiting clubhouse or the visiting dugout, so it has been kind of weird to come here and go the other way instead of taking that quick right-handed turn into the Cardinals' clubhouse."
McGwire also said he is there to counsel and advise players who have questions about them and might be considering trying PEDS.
"I explained that for what I had to go through in 2010," McGwire said. "(PEDs are) not worth it at all."
McGwire's first season as hitting coach with the Dodgers has had its ups and downs. Los Angeles started out the season in a huge slump and was in last place. But, since the All Star break, the Dodgers have been hot, entering play against the Cardinals leading the National League West while riding a team-record 14-game road winning streak.
"Winning really changes everything," McGwire said. "It took a while for this ball club to come together. There are a lot of new faces. I was talking last week that the Dodgers sort of resemble what happened with the 2011 Cardinals."
Even now McGwire said the Dodgers are not at 100 percent.
"Guys are still putting things together and we are still dealing with injuries," McGwire said. "We have only played one game this season with the team we were supposed to have out of spring training. We have only played one game this year with all those guys on the field."
Recently Hall of Famer George Brett stepped down as the Kansas City Royals hitting coach. He didn't want the job and didn't enjoy it. As the Dodgers hitting coach, McGwire said it is a hard job.
"When I took the job (in St. Louis) in 2010, Tony (LaRussa) said it is the hardest job in sports today," McGwire said. "And I have to agree. It is not an easy job to deal with. Everybody's personality, everybody's swing, you have to learn everybody and get to know who they are. The thing about hitting is there is never a time when everybody is feeling good. There is always somebody feeling not good and you are always battling every day. I have yet to be on a team as a player or as a coach where every nine hitters – or lets just say 12 hitters, are dead on and know this is the way I am going to feel for the rest of the season. There is always something."
McGwire spends more time at the ball park now and works more than when he was a player, but is enjoying every minute of it.
"It is not easy," McGwire said. "It is a battle. I am spending more time at the ballpark as a coach now than I did as a player. There is so much studying to do. Studying the pitchers, studying the hitters and it is something that I love. It is in my blood and I am glad I accepted the job in 2010 and I hope I am doing this job until the day I die."
McGwire said it was hard to leave St. Louis for Los Angeles, but with all the time at the ball park and away from his family, working closer to home was better for his family.
"It wasn't easy," McGwire said. "It was hard to leave. I had great times and memories with all those guys over in that dugout (pointing to the Cardinals' dugout), but you have to weigh the family situation. My boys are 9 and 10 and getting older and playing sports. The triplets are 3 years old, and the family situation outweighs it. … My wife and I sat down and weighed it. It was a difficult decision, but I am glad I made it."
Prior to the Dodgers, McGwire spent three seasons (2010-2012) as the Cardinals' hitting coach. He mentored young players such as Allen Craig, Matt Carpenter, David Freese, Jon Jay, and company. Even though he is now doing the same job in Dodger Blue instead of Cardinal Red, he hasn't stopped following his former pupils.
"I watch almost daily to see how they are doing," McGwire said. "A lot of time, a lot of hours, a lot of everything, the good and bad to go through it, it is just really see them. They are getting better and better and that is what I saw. … They just haven't missed a beat. They are better and that is a good sign."
McGwire mentioned the Cardinals' success this season with runners in scoring position as well as the Redbirds' ability to drive in runs with two outs.
"Look at the numbers of what they are doing with men in scoring position," McGwire said. "Look at the numbers they are doing with two outs. It is just incredible."
As the Dodgers' hitting coach, McGwire has to work up his hitters to prepare for St. Louis' offensive onslaught.
"Being on this side, we know we have to really battle," McGwire said. "They take advantage of mistakes. That is the kind of offense they have."
After working with former Cardinals' skipper LaRussa for two years and current manager Mike Matheny for one year, McGwire is enjoying working with Dodgers' manager Don Mattingly. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, McGwire played first base for the Oakland A's while Mattingly manned first for the New York Yankees. Both first basemen were gold glove winners.
"Mattingly is awesome," McGwire said. "He is good. He is well prepared. I do have the honor of saying I stopped his streak of gold gloves in 1990, but then he got it back the next year."
As the questions from reporters migrated back to PEDs and steroids, the question was brought up about his chances on the Hall of Fame. McGwire acknowledged that he is most likely never going to be voted in, and he seemed OK with that reality.
"Unfortunately, I don't believe there will be a day that I will be in there," McGwire said. "But that's OK. I have already said that. That is the way things are. I have dealt with it and I am OK with it."
Even with that, McGwire expressed that he has never forgotten the feeling he got from the fans in St. Louis during his time as a Cardinal.
"They are great fans and baseball fans," McGwire said. "I have told guys that have never been here, this is one place that in 1997, it was the first time I ever felt appreciated as a baseball player. These fans know what baseball is all about."