You know who has zero sympathy for Larry Johnson, the Kansas City Chiefs running back who questioned his head coach’s credentials on Twitter earlier this week? Baseball players. That’s because their hitting coaches have weaker job resumes than your average high school sophomore.
I’m not kidding. Have you done a background check on your favorite team’s hitting coach lately? More importantly, has your favorite team done a background check on its hitting coach? Eight teams have coaches who never made it to the Major Leagues, not for a single day. Even Pete Rose Jr. got a cup of coffee in the bigs.
Then you have the ones who actually did make it to the show. Most of them were journeymen and backups for their entire careers, and their numbers tell you why. Greg Maddux would be more likely to come through with a big hit than some of these guys. Case in point: Seattle hitting coach Alan Cockrell. Cockrell played for five different organizations during his 12 year pro career.
He collected just two hits in the Major Leagues.
There isn’t a hitting coach in baseball with a resume that compares to Mark McGwire’s, which is why I can’t understand why people are making such a fuss over Big Mac returning to the sport to coach the St. Louis Cardinals. If Jack Howell, a career .239 hitter, is allowed to teach big leaguers how to hit, surely McGwire must have something to offer, right?
And don’t tell me baseball just isn’t ready to embrace a steroid user. Not after I had to hear about what a warrior Andy Pettitte is after he helped the Yankees win the pennant on Sunday night. This year we watched Alex Rodriguez giving curtain calls, Manny Ramirez return to cheers after a 50 game suspension and David Ortiz receive standing ovations following the news that he may have cheated. Our nation’s biggest baseball hotbeds sent the message McGwire preached years ago: We aren’t here to talk about the past.
But at least McGwire has a past worth talking about. The same can’t be said for the majority of hitting coaches in baseball. If you take Don Mattingly out of the equation, the rest of the group combined to make eleven All Star teams. McGwire made twelve appearances himself, which happens to be twice as much as Donnie Baseball.
The biggest complaint, by far, is that McGwire was a one-dimensional hitter. Of course, no one seems to care that most of these guys were no-dimensional hitters. Rick Eckstein, the Washington Nationals hitting coach, was a .220 hitter in college and never played again. Joe Vavra, who coaches in Minnesota, had three career homeruns in the minors and never got past AAA.
The truth is McGwire’s .263 career batting average is actually respectable compared to his counterparts. Only eight current hitting coaches have higher career batting averages, unless you count Lloyd McClendon’s Little League World Series numbers. No one has more homeruns, RBIs or a better slugging percentage than McGwire.
There seems to be only one common trait that almost every hitting coach has, from Eckstein to Mattingly. They’re all inherently likeable. If they weren’t, they’d have washed out of baseball when their playing days were over. What keeps these guys around more than anything is the fact that players trust them and managers enjoy their presence.
And was there any baseball player in history more loveable than McGwire? Big Mac was Big Bird friendly his entire career, which is probably his only defense when it comes to the steroid use. McGwire’s roid rage came in the form of bear hugs and wide smiles for fans and teammates alike.
Once again, McGwire’s credentials are unmatched.
No matter what, it’s hard not to root for the guy. No athlete has watched his fame vanish the way McGwire’s did following his disappearing act in 2005. Once larger than life, he’s now just trying have a life in the sport he helped save 11 years ago.
And you can’t say he’s not qualified.