Cardinals quick to praise McGwire

By R.B. Fallstrom
Associated Press / January 12, 2010

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ST. LOUIS - The St. Louis Cardinals can only hope their new batting coach now will cease to be a sideshow.

Mark McGwire’s admission yesterday of steroids use while shattering Roger Maris’s season home run record in 1998 was seen by many on the team and around baseball as a first step toward rehabilitating a tattered image.

“I’m happy for him that he’s taken the platform to kind of change the last picture everybody saw of him, which was him sitting before Congress,’’ said catcher Mike Matheny, a teammate at the end of McGwire’s career in 2000-01. “He’s one of the few guys who didn’t stand up there and blatantly lie. There’s something to be said about that.’’

Reds manager Dusty Baker also commended McGwire.

“I admire him for doing it,’’ he said. “I’m sure it wasn’t easy. Maybe he’s clearing his conscience. Again, every man has to live with himself.’’

Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak was relieved the subject finally had been addressed.

“We knew this was going to be a difficult day, and it’s especially difficult for him,’’ Mozeliak said in a telephone interview. “I think you have to admire his courage and willingness to do this.’’

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig was looking to move forward, too.

“The so-called ‘steroid era’ - a reference that is resented by the many players who played in that era and never touched the substances - is clearly a thing of the past, and Mark’s admission today is another step in the right direction,’’ Selig said.

McGwire likely will appear at the team’s annual Winter Warm-up promotion, which starts Saturday and runs for three days. That might give him the chance to apologize directly to fans.

By spring training, the team hopes, McGwire can slip into the background and do his job.

Team chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said the 46-year-old McGwire did the “right thing.’’

“No one condones what Mark did more than 10 years ago,’’ DeWitt said. “But we hired him as our hitting coach because we know there are many contributions that Mark can and will make to our team and to this game.

“I’m glad Mark has gone public and the Cardinals welcome him back as our hitting coach.’’

Whether McGwire will be welcomed back by Hall of Fame voters is another story.

In four appearances on the ballot, McGwire has hovered below 25 percent, not close to the 75 percent needed for election.

Some baseball writers who vote for the Hall of Fame and have not backed McGwire in the past said they didn’t think yesterday’s news would change their stances on his candidacy - because they figured all along he had done steroids.

“That was a shocker, only in the fact he finally admitted it,’’ said Bob Sherwin, a former Mariners beat writer and longtime member of the Seattle chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. “I’m not sure this brings him any closer to the Hall’s threshold, but it does end the speculation that did nothing but harm his eligibility.’’

Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg agreed.

“I don’t think it helps him in any way,’’ he said. “He’s on the ballot for the Hall of Fame and he’s getting about 23 or 24 percent of the votes right now. And I think that number will just go down now, in my opinion.’’

But there are those who are sure McGwire’s coming clean will bring him more votes, although perhaps not enough to get into the Hall.

“I think McGwire’s Hall of Fame chances will be enhanced by his long-overdue admission, but he was more than 275 votes short this time, said Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “That many voters are not going to change their minds.’’

Hall of Famer Willie McCovey said he thinks McGwire belongs.

“Whether he took steroids or not, he did so much for baseball. He almost helped save baseball for a few years there,’’ McCovey said.

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