Yesterday came the news that Mark McGwire will be joining the St. Louis Cardinals as their new hitting coach. Much of the news centered around ongoing – and very probable – speculation that McGwire used performance enhancing drugs during his career. But hey, as Big Mac would say to Congress, I’m not here to talk about the past. That’s because I was more struck by a different aspect of this story. What interested me is that McGwire is yet another great hitter gone on to coach. Based on what I know of baseball history, more times than not, this doesn’t seem to work out.
The feeling here is that the best coaches are generally not former star players. For instance, the most-successful hitting coaches I can think of, Rudy Jaramillo of the Chicago Cubs and the late, great Charley Lau, who coached George Brett with the Kansas City Royals had only marginal professional careers. Meanwhile, there’ve been a myriad number of former stars, who’ve tried and failed to coach. Granted, there have been some isolated success stories. Ted Williams turned the expansion Washington Senators into a brief contender in the late 1960s, Rod Carew did good work with the Angels, and Don Baylor parlayed a couple of coaching stints into a managerial career. But I can compile a far lengthier list of failures. They include:
Babe Ruth: Hired as a first base coach for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1938, Ruth’s job was more to hit home runs in batting practice. He lasted one season.
Yogi Berra: The story I heard with Berra seems to be an issue common to lots of former stars: He could do the work himself better than he could teach it, and it frustrated him to stop and try explaining what came so natural to him.
Reggie Jackson: Jackson became a hitting coach for the Oakland Athletics, after he wrapped up his playing career with them. The job went so well that Jackson chose to wear a Yankees hat for his Hall of Fame induction in 1993, two years after the A’s fired him.
Bobby Bonds: Bonds was hired more as a favor, after the San Francisco Giants signed Bonds’ son Barry prior to the 1993 season. The elder Bonds did get some commendable results with Matt Williams, having the Giants slugger hitting at a .336 clip in 1995, before he went down injured. But that was Bonds’ high-water mark as the Giants hitting coach.
I hope for McGwire’s sake that it goes well. While he clearly did steroids, in my book, he seems like a nice enough guy who mearly got caught up in something that was endemic in the game at the time. Regardless, though, McGwire’s looking a challenging situation here.