Now that we are done talking about Mark McGwire the historical figure, let me just say that it was exciting to hear this from a hitting coach:
McGwire described how ready he is now to get to spring training and begin working with the Cardinals hitters. He has been reviewing video of some of the hitters, and he's been preparing some ways to get his message across. During the session Wednesday with Schumaker and Ryan, he stressed what he usually stresses: Direct line to the pitch. Consistent swing mechanics (even when there is no intent to swing at, say, a ball out of the strike zone). And, especially with Ryan, keeping the forearm and bat in a right angle longer and through the ball.
After the past two days, McGwire sees little to distract him from his new vocation.
Someone—maybe me, eventually, but I haven't started yet—will eventually determine whether Hal McRae's connection with the free-swinging Cardinals of the last few years is justified. But this quote is just about all I want in a hitting coach—a comfort with video, a determination that hitting can and must be systematically taught, and ideas. Obviously McRae was at a disadvantage, here, when it comes to having his ideas covered in multi-day interviews by the Post-Dispatch. But
(This is also, incidentally, why I believe that McGwire honestly does not believe that steroids had a significant effect on counting stats beyond games played: the usual boilerplate about steroids not swinging the bat for you or improving your hand-eye coordination is accompanied, here, by an alternate theory to which he's apparently held for the past fifteen years.)
McGwire's seriousness about hitting is no guarantee of success, but given the choice between a Dave Duncan type, with an obvious guiding philosophy that I might sometimes disagree with, and a Hal McRae type—and with no guarantee of quality in either direction—I'll take the Duncan every time. Remind me of this, please, when McGwire is turning Anthony Reyes into a groundball hitter.
Jose Valverde came and went as news over the course of yesterday, which makes this an odd, valedictory notes item, but even if Valverde himself—I can't get behind giving up a draft pick for him, even though he is a perfectly good second-tier closer—isn't the choice I think he's representative of a certain understandable Ryan Franklin angst.
But the more I think about it the more I'm ready for the possibility that the Cardinals enter the season without outside bullpen help. Don't get me wrong: I see no downside to signing Kiko Calero, and I have no idea why nobody's done it yet. But after looking at the remaining free agents—I used this list—I realized that if Ryan Franklin were a free agent available on an affordable one year deal I would probably be writing similar things about him, anyway.
When you don't watch his seasons day after day—when you don't watch him look picture-perfect for two months fully aware that there will come a time at some point in the season where every swing is a line drive in some direction, and the hope is that someone, a fan or a fielder, is prepared to catch them before they hit teeth—it looks like he's adjusted pretty well to the relief role. And as frustrating as he is, even more frustrating than the average closer, he has.
So my hope, if the Cardinals don't go the exceedingly obvious Calero route or the less obvious and possibly cringe-inducing Valverde route, is this: that they get as many possible Ryan Franklins in camp as possible. Former starters? Failed prospects? Eric Gagne, most recently a starter in the Canadian-American league? I want all of them. My favorite guys in this last tier, at this very moment, are ROOGYs, because I recall with a certain hindsight-drenched fondness the way that La Russa used Russ Springer. The real Russ Springer is available, but may cost real money; Brendan Donnelly and former super-ROOGY Chad Bradford are also floating around.
If this sounds like I've lowered my expectations... well, I have. I'm content with a possible Jason Motte recovery remaining the major bullpen acquisition of the offseason. But I'd like some more guys to talk about in February, if nothing else.
I thought this was pretty interesting: Carlos Beltran underwent knee surgery without the Mets' consent. There's a line, I think, running between this and Mark McGwire's recent steroid admission—players operating within their own self-interest, attempting to get the most out of what is an extremely limited, terrifyingly short career.
Of all the things in McGwire's statements I could empathize most with that, his worry about losing his physical gifts right as he began retooling his swing. Baseball players peak around 27; McGwire was already 29, having lost a year to injury, when he decided that he'd been swinging wrong, and approaching the game incorrectly, for his entire life. Carlos Beltran is 33.