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Q&A: McGwire on second career in dugout

July 22, 2017

Mark McGwire reached 500 home runs faster than any player in history. He broke Roger Maris' single-season home run record of 61 with 70 home runs in 1998, three years ahead of Barry Bonds hitting 73.And to think, had Marcel Lachemann not resigned as the pitching coach at USC to

Mark McGwire reached 500 home runs faster than any player in history. He broke Roger Maris' single-season home run record of 61 with 70 home runs in 1998, three years ahead of Barry Bonds hitting 73.
And to think, had Marcel Lachemann not resigned as the pitching coach at USC to become the farm director for the Angels in 1982, McGwire would have been a pitcher, not a power-hitting first baseman. But then McGwire is one of those guys who is far from predictable. He is one of those rare star-caliber players who actually decided to stay in the game after his playing days were done, enjoying the challenges of being a coach. First with the Cardinals then the Dodgers as a hitting coach, he is now the bench coach with the Padres.
McGwire talked about his unexpected roles in baseball in this week's Q&A. Is Marcel's claim that you would have never been a home run legend if he stayed at USC true?
McGwire: I tell that story all the time. I know I would be a pitcher today, or a retired pitcher, if he stayed at SC. That's why I went there. All I wanted to do as a kid was be a pitcher. I'd hit and hit home runs as a Little Leaguer and through high school, but I didn't put any work in that. All my work was in pitching. So what happens?
McGwire: I went to USC, and the first day there, we have a team meeting. I can still picture it. We're at Dedeaux Field and Lach says, "Sorry guys, I'm leaving to run the California Angels' Minor League system." The next thing you know, I'm a hitter. I still pitched my first two years, but not the last year. There are still days I wish I pitched. You did OK for yourself as a hitter. What about sitting out for nine years after you retire before coming back as a coach? What led to that?
McGwire: Well, Tony (La Russa) had been trying to get me to come back in the game for years. But I had remarried and started having kids, and doing what normal people do when they retire. Baseball, however, is in my blood. The kids got older and were starting to understand what baseball was about. Tony called again, and I decided to get back in the game. Any particular thing that made the decision for you?
McGwire: There wasn't one little thing. It was, "OK, I've been retired for nine years. I have a great opportunity to get back in at the big league level." Was it an easy transition?
McGwire: There's a learning curve. You think you can coach, but you can't just come in and starting saying things. The biggest thing is creating relationships with players. That was something I remember about my playing career. Were there particular coaches you had who stick out?
McGwire: I had a couple. Merv Rettenmund and, of course, Doug Rader. They kept it real simple. You understood what they were saying. That was one of the things that resonated with me when I got into coaching. The first thing you want to do as a coach is get in there and help, help, help. But you have to know when to do it, when to step back. Sometimes the best coaching is you when don't say anything. You let the player come to you. The great thing about coaching is passing on the knowledge that you have learned. We are psychologists, basically. We're constantly dealing with players' feelings, what they are thinking, how they react to things we say and how are they going to react to failure. That's the biggest thing at this level. These guys have had so much success in the Minor Leagues and come to the big leagues and face failure for the first time. How are they going to react? The Hal Keller theory -- you can't tell how good a player is until you see how bad he can be?
McGwire: Yes, it's how they overcome failure. How receptive they are to information. There's always fine-tuning. I don't care how good you are and how many years you play, you're always going to be fine-tuning your defense, fine-tuning your swing. The key to hitting?
McGwire: For the hitter, the majority of your outs are made on pitcher pitches. A hitter makes a living on pitchers' mistakes. We're all going to hit mistakes. How you overcome not swinging at those pitches that are going to get you out is the toughest thing. With your resume as a player, do you find some players are intimidated dealing with you?
McGwire: Some of the kids don't even know (I played). A lot of the young kids don't know the history of the game. Society's totally different than when we grew up. If some guy who played before I did walked through the clubhouse, a lot of these guys wouldn't know who they are. When you came to the Padres, you made the move from hitting coach to bench coach. Has the transition been enjoyable?
McGwire: I love it. You watch both sides of the ball, not just the offense. You need to know the hitters on the other side, what makes them tick. You notice who is swinging good and who isn't. And I know what the pitchers are going to do because I game plan like I would as a player. The game does get fast around the sixth inning. When you hear people talk about the game getting fast in the dugout, it's true. Now that you are coaching, do you think about managing?
McGwire: I've never ruled it out, but I enjoy being a bench coach, sitting next to (manager) Andy Green. I love learning, and he is very, very smart. I challenged myself when I took this job, and I love it. When you retired as a player, did you think you would eventually get into coaching?
McGwire: I would joke around when I was younger about coaching, managing. As you get away from the game, though, you realize how much the game is in your blood. You realize that baseball is basically all you have done in your life. You think about needing to pass on the knowledge you have learned from the coaches you play for. I am glad I am doing it.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for