Mark McGwire is now the hitting coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He came from the depths of USC, and now he returns to the fires from whence he was forged. In between he done swole up like a bunch of fire ants bit him, but he's better now, and we shan't talk about that.
Usually coach-hirings don't make for good fodder around here. Unless it's Dave Duncan, Dave Righetti, or Leo Mazzone, no one pays attention to the pitching coach until things go wrong. And hitting coaches? Same thing, except I can't remember the names of any of them, unless they're on the Giants. They should call them the Guys You Should Blame if Things Don't Go Well Guys instead of hitting coaches. Between October, 2010 and about May of this year, people thought Hensley Meulens was a TRAVESTY of a hitting coach who HAD NO IDEA WHAT HE WAS DOING until the Giants started hitting again.
That isn't to say hitting coaches don't make a difference. But it probably isn't a difference we can notice from the outside, and it's not something you can evaluate by taking five seconds to rank teams by OPS.
So McGwire isn't news.
Except let me play the concern troll here. I've long been fascinated with the Cardinals' player development. Specifically, how they seemed to have a talent for polishing non-prospect and semi-prospect hitters into something much more. I wrote about it here and also here, with that last link taking you to a preview for the National League Championship Series the Giants won over the Cardinals en route to a World Series championship in a postseason that did not involve the Dodgers.
It's not like you're clicking those links, so I'll summarize them: Allen Craig wasn't a prospect, and then he was a fantastic hitter in the majors. Jon Jay wasn't a prospect, and then he was an above-average hitter in the majors. The Padres traded David Freese for the worst month of Jim Edmonds' career, but they did it because Freese wasn't a prospect. Even guys like Skip Schumaker and Daniel Descalso have had varying degrees of success that they weren't expected to have. Yadier Molina turned from an offensive zero to one of the best-hitting catchers in the game.
And so on. This isn't about the Cardinals, though. This is about Mark McGwire. The obvious connection is that he's responsible for all the Cardinals' success by doing stuff like this, but there isn't a lot of evidence to support that. Just the obvious correlation/causation link. Before the 2010 season, the Cardinals hired McGwire. Since then, Jay, Craig, Freese, and Molina have become much better hitters than anyone expected. Ergo, ad sum emptor, McGwire did it all. Good coaching on the hitting, hitting coach.
I'm not ready to believe that. But I am ready to believe the Cardinals have some sort of hitting philosophy in place, an organizational blueprint that helps players young and old alike. McGwire hasn't been an active Cardinals player for over a decade (!), during which time the front office has turned over. So it's not like there's a secret scroll of hitting the Cardinals give all their young players, which McGwire has seen and will now impart on young Dodgers after they hatch and scuttle out of the briny sludge. But the Cardinals have been doing something right, and McGwire was a part of it.
What I'm most scared of, though, is that the Cardinals have a secret scroll of hitting, and McGwire has seen it, which means he'll now impart its findings on young Dodger players. I like it better when the Dodgers bring up guys like Jerry Sands and Dee Gordon, yo-yo them around for a bit, and then bury them. Or when they take guys like Andy LaRoche and James Loney, who both had all sorts of expectations attached to them, and turn them into a quivering mass of Eugenio.
We'll see if things improve for the Dodgers with McGwire. As I've always said, I'd rather have the Dodgers win 88 games every year and miss the playoffs by a one-game margin than have them lose 100 every year. Well, those two scenarios are at least tied. Okay, maybe I'd go with the 100 losses. But an improved Dodgers team isn't always a bad thing, so long as they improve just enough to be disappointing. Hopefully McGwire can help with that, and nothing else.