Mark McGwire officially joins Dodgers as hitting coach

Richard Mackson-US PRESSWIRE

The former first baseman was hitting coach for the Cardinals for the last three years.

Mark McGwire on Wednesday was officially hired as hitting coach of the Dodgers, filling the position left vacant with the dismissal of Dave Hansen from the position on Oct. 12. McGwire spent the last three seasons as hitting coach of the St. Louis Cardinals, the team with which he played the final 4½ seasons of his career from 1997-2001.

“Mark has been able to translate his success as a big league hitter into his work as hitting coach with the Cardinals,” general manager Ned Colletti said in a release. “He earned the respect of both veterans and young players while in St. Louis and the offensive numbers the Cardinals produced under his tutelage speak for themselves. We’re excited to have him join our coaching staff and anticipate great things from his work with our hitters in 2013 and beyond.”

A high-profile first baseman turned hitting coach isn't new to the Dodgers, as manager Don Mattingly served in the position for 2½ years from July 2008 through 2010; Eddie Murray did the same for 2006 and almost half of 2007; and Jack Clark filled the role from 2001 through the beginning of August 2003.

Mattingly and McGwire were teammates on the American League All-Star team from 1987-1989, with Mattingly starting in 1987 and McGwire in 1988-1989.

McGwire in 2013 will be the seventh Dodgers hitting coach in eight years, following Hansen (2011-2012), Jeff Pentland (2011), Mattingly, Mike Easler (2008), Bill Mueller (2007), and Murray (2006-2007). Current third base coach Tim Wallach was hitting coach for the Dodgers in 2004-2005.

Hansen was hired as hitting coach by the Mariners on Oct. 22.

McGwire was just 1-for-17 against the Dodgers in the 1988 World Series, but his lone hit was a walk-off home run off Jay Howell in the ninth inning to win Game 3 for the Oakland Athletics. After that home run, something McGwire told reporters (per Sam McManis of the Los Angeles Times) stood out:

"People have been talking that we're all in slumps because we didn't get any hits the first 2 games," McGwire said. "Well, during the year, some of our guys did go a game or two without a hit. But we've always managed to come back. We have too many good hitters on this team to stay in a prolonged slump."

Emphasis mine.

Nearly 25 years later, that is similar to the riddle McGwire will have to solve with the Dodgers, one that helped cost the Dodgers a playoff spot in 2012. Despite a seemingly potent middle of the order that featured Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, and Andre Ethier, the Dodgers averaged just three runs per game in the first 28 games after their nine-player mega-trade with the Boston Red Sox.

That 11-17 stretch moved the Dodgers from 1½ out of a playoff spot to 4½ out with eight games left, a deficit that proved insurmountable even with a 7-1 finish.

Then again, maybe the offense improving next season will have less to do with McGwire than getting back a fully healthy Kemp, adding Carl Crawford, and having everyone more comfortable after a full spring training together. But expect McGwire to be fully prepared, something that took him time to learn himself.

In October, Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com wrote about McGwire's evolution as a hitting coach, the roots of which began when injuries forced him to miss 202 of 276 games during the 1993 and 1994 seasons as a player. Forced to watch, McGwire became a student of the game:

As he watched, McGwire noticed the nuances of the battles taking place between pitcher and hitter. He developed a greater appreciation for patience and plate discipline and of the video viewing that Tony Gwynn had begun to make mainstream.

The stain on McGwire's career is that he illicitly built up his body. The less scandalous side of the story is that he also built up his hitting acumen, and of this La Russa took note.

"Mark was really talented [early in his career], but he was absolutely clueless about hitting," La Russa said. "Later in his career, he got brilliant."

McGwire does not refute the notion.

"When I decided to get into coaching, that's what I started to preach to the young kids," McGwire said. "There's more to it than seeing it and hitting it, which you do have to do. Mentally, you have to be prepared, and that starts at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, long before we take the field, and then there are adjustments that are made during the game."

At the moment, the coaching staff for the Dodgers boasts the most home runs as players, with McGwire accounting for 583 of the 1,220 circuit clouts. The only team close is the Arizona Diamondbacks, whose coaches had 1,156 home runs, and that's without a first base coach just yet as Eric Young (and his 79 career home runs) was let go at the end of the season.

Just looking at manager, hitting coach, first base coach, third base coach, and bench coach, there are five MLB teams with at least 500 home runs from their staff.

MLB Home Runs By Coaching Staff
Team HR Manager Hitting First Base Third Base Bench
Dodgers 1,220 Mattingly (222) McGwire (583) Lopes (155) Wallach (260) Hillman (0)
Diamondbacks 1,156 Gibson (255) Baylor (338) vacant Williams (378) Trammell (185)
White Sox 787 Ventura (294) Manto (31) Baines (384) McEwing (25) Parent (53)
Reds 528 Baker (242) Jacoby (120) Hatcher (54) Berry (0) Speier (112)
Phillies 515 Manuel (4) Henderson (68) Samuel (161) Sandberg (282) vacant
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