La Russa says drug talk won't distract McGwire
He may have no choice this spring after being hired as the hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals. But Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa doesn't think that will be a problem.
"I know how seriously I've personally considered it before I presented it to our owner and general manager and our coaching staff. I know the seriousness of my conversation with Mark, and I know how seriously he thought about it before he accepted," La Russa said Tuesday at the baseball winter meetings. "I think it's going to work, and I think he has demonstrated to some of us that he has a lot to offer as a hitting coach."
McGwire, the former single-season home run king, has largely stayed out of the public eye since retiring in 2001, mainly to avoid questions about performance-enhancing drugs. Although McGwire has never admitted to using, or been convicted of taking, illegal drugs, many of his accomplishments have been questioned. A day earlier former Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog said he thought McGwire might change his mind about the job to avoid having to deal with the steroid questions.
"I think what'll happen is hopefully whatever questions there are will happen before we go to spring training, and that's about him being the hitting coach," La Russa said. "And you can allow or not allow whatever distractions you want....Once we get into camp, assuming he has his opportunity to speak, it's going to be about coaching. He's coaching."
La Russa said McGwire, who lives in Huntington Beach, has already begun studying videotape of Cardinals hitters and has already spoken to some by phone.
"I talk to him a lot," La Russa said "He's already had conversations with some of our guys. He's worked with guys over the winter. He's studying tape.
"I'm the beneficiary of those conversations. I know how excited he is about it."
-- Kevin Baxter in Indianapolis
Photo: St. Louis Cardinals' Mark McGwire smiles as he rounds the bases after hitting his 70th home run of the season against the Montreal Expos in 1998. Credit: Amy Sancetta / Associated Press.