The Dodgers introduced Mark McGwire as their hitting coach on Wednesday, and the former slugging first baseman is happy to be home. The Pomona native and former USC All-American grew up a Dodger fan, and relished the opportunity to be closer to his family.
"Things just worked out perfectly. It's the first time in my baseball career that I have an opportunity to live at home and work at home," McGwire said. "I didn't know when this was going to happen in my career. My wife and I talked about it since 2010, that maybe some day I could be working on the west coast. And it happened last week."
Last week was a Halloween meeting with McGwire, Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti, and director of pro scouting Rick Ragazzo at McGwire's Irvine home. But first, St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozielak had to grant permission for the Dodgers to interview his hitting coach of the last three seasons.
"(Mozielak) said normally he would never let him out of his sight, but he was cognizant of Mark's family and desire to be closer to home," Colletti said. "I think we benefited from Mark's love of his family."
McGwire, 49, has five young children with his wife Stephanie, including triplet girls. Despite his love for the game, McGwire faced a tough choice ahead if he remained in St. Louis.
"I absolutely love the job of being hitting coach. I love teaching. I love being around the game of baseball. I love being around talented athletes, period. But this last year was probably one of the hardest years on me, being away from my family," McGwire said. "My boys are getting older, nine and 10 now, and starting to play their own game of baseball. The girls are two and a half. Being away from them a lot this year was really tough."
Colletti was impressed with McGwire from afar from facing the Cardinals the last three seasons.
"From all accounts, from anyone I've ever talked to, this guy is a tireless worker," Colletti said. "I find it to be real instructive when you can learn about somebody's successes and observe it without having to ask about it. ... When we got around to St. Louis there was always conversation about how well they adjusted inside a game, how well they adjusted inside an at-bat, how they prepared."
Preparation is key for McGwire, who said he probably would have returned to St. Louis next season had the Dodgers not called, though he said he wasn't 100% sure of that.
"I love teaching. I knew I was going to love it as a player. I didn't know I would love it this much. I just love to get entrenched in the cages, and getting entrenched in knowing everybody, knowing their minds, and knowing how they work, understanding, and just passing on the knowledge that I've learned throughout my career," McGwire said. "I've been on top of the game, but I've had a lot of failure. It's the failure that makes you grow as a player, that makes you learn, and I've had a lot of that. I've probably had more failure than success."
The Dodgers had quite a bit of failure toward the end of 2012, when they went 11-17 immediately after their nine-player trade with the Boston Red Sox that added Adrian Gonzalez to an increasingly potent lineup. The Dodgers averaged just 3.0 runs per game during that stretch.
McGwire said he looked forward to the challenge of getting to know the Dodgers' hitters in order to get the best out of them.
"I was probably one of the toughest mentally prepared players ever, and that's what got me through everything. The mind is the most powerful thing on your body, and that is something I'll get across. You have to understand having a game plan, to be willing to adjust, to be open to challenge yourself. Your numbers, and what you've done for your first six or seven years, how do you know that's the best you can do?"
Colletti said the Dodgers needed a different approach on offense. He also said the Dodgers will also announce the hire of an assistant hitting coach in the next few days, to work with McGwire.
"We have a chance to be a very good hitting team. We've got great players on this club. We need the thought process to be refined and to be more aggressive in a disciplined type of way," Colletti said. "Don't hurry up to hit."
McGwire was asked about his steroid use, which has helped limit his Hall of Fame chances despite his 583 career home runs, good for 10th on the all-time list. McGwire is on the Hall of Fame ballot for the seventh year, and last year declined to 19.5% of the vote, down from a peak of 23.7% in 2010.
"It's something I did and something I have to live with for the rest of my life. I understand everything about what the Hall of Fame is all about, and I totally respect that," McGwire said. "It's a mistake I've made. I've owned up to it and moved on."
McGwire said he didn't get back into coaching to restore his image.
"I didn't get back in the game for that. I got back in the game because I love teaching, and just love being around the guys. I didn't do it for any attention, and sometimes I'm sorry that attention does follow me," he said. "You know what? It's all about the players. These are the guys that are out there playing. I'm in the background, I'm here learning and trying to pass on knowledge. I'm trying to prepare them for the game, and that's what it's all about."
McGwire sounds enthusiastic about hitting and working with players. Might he one day look to manage?
"Right now, no. But I would never rule it out," McGwire said. "I'm having too much fun working with the hitters."