McGwire returns to St. Louis, opens up on PED suspensions

ST. LOUIS — On baseball’s day of reckoning for the Biogenesis scandal, which coincidentally was also Mark McGwire’s first time back at Busch Stadium since 2012,  the former Cardinals slugger agreed to talk to the media.

As soon as the Dodgers finished batting practice, McGwire walked off the field, took a seat in the visitors’ dugout and the questions began.

So, what’s your reaction to the suspensions?

“I was really hoping the first question would be how does it feel coming back to St. Louis,” McGwire said. He was smiling, a little.

Then he answered.

“Well, it feels great to be here in St. Louis.”

And offered his reaction.

“It really doesn’t matter what I think,” he said. “What matters is what the players think. What I hear every day in the clubhouse, they’re just happy it’s coming to an end. And they’re happy that Major League Baseball is taking care of it. Move forward, hopefully this will be the end of it.”

During the remainder of the interview, which lasted 16 minutes according to the timer on my recorder, McGwire offered further opinions on baseball’s PED problems, his decision to leave St. Louis, the players he left behind, the players he is working with in L.A. and his thoughts on making the Hall of Fame.

He appeared sincere, thoughtful, patient and downright pleasant. He also made sense most of the time.

On the penalties handed down in the Biogenesis case: “You’re going to have to ask the players. You’ve heard players wanted more (penalties) and that’s something they’re going to have to look at. I wish I never was a part of it … Just get rid of it. If it’s better to have bigger suspensions, then they’ll have to change it.”

On whether he feels he helped start the whole PED mess: “You know, that’s a tough question. Wish I was never part of it. Obviously, you wish there were things in place earlier, but they were put in 2003 so let’s hope and pray this is the end of it. Everybody, especially the players, don’t want any more part of it. Just hope this is the end of it.”

On whether he’d tell a player it’s not worth it to take PEDs: “I’ve explained that for what I had to go through in 2010. Not worth it at all.”

On whether he senses players having less tolerance for PED users than in the past: “What I hear, yes, absolutely. That’s good. It’s really good. (Evan) Longoria said today it’s one of the saddest days in baseball. It is. It’s really bad.”

But some players actually said it was a good day because it proves MLB is cracking down: “I just hope it’s over with. I just hope we don’t have to sit here and talk about this any more. Pray and hope that it is.”

On whether he thinks about the Hall of Fame: “Unfortunately, I don’t believe there will be a day that I’ll be in there. That’s OK. I’ve said that. It’s the way things are. I’ve dealt with it. I’m OK with it.”

On his decision to leave St. Louis: “It was hard. There were great times and memories with all those guys over in that dugout. My boys are 9 and 10, getting older, playing sports. Triplets are 3 years old. The family situation outweighs it. I had an opportunity to do an interview with L.A. It worked out when they offered me a job. My wife and I sat down and weighed it. It was a difficult decision, but I’m glad I made the decision.”

On being back at Busch Stadium: “It’s always good to come back here. I’d never been in the visiting clubhouse, I’d never been in the visiting dugout so it’s been sort of weird to come here and go the other way instead of taking that quick right-handed turn into the Cardinals’ clubhouse. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to hit in this stadium.”

On Cardinals fans: “Great fans like I’ve told guys who’ve never been here. This was the one place, in 1997 (after he was traded by the A’s), was the first time I ever felt appreciated as a baseball player because these fans know what baseball is all about.”

Comparing phenom Yasiel Puig to other hitters: “There’s a lot of similarities to Albert (Pujols). Puig is faster, but the way they go about their at-bats, the way they go about playing. You can (say) Roberto Clemente, you can (say) Kirby Puckett. You can name a lot of guys. He’s so raw. What we saw in spring training was so exciting. We knew that he was raw and we knew that when the chance of him getting called up, he was going to learn on the job, which he is. He is making mistakes, but he is learning through them. But he’s infectious.”

On the Dodgers’ turnaround from last to first: “I was talking last week that the Dodgers sort of resemble what happened to the 2011 Cardinals. We were just going through the season, had a lot of injuries, then the big trade and all of a sudden the team jelled and look what happened. Won a World Series. That’s sort of the feeling that is happening in L.A. It’s a great feeling. Guys are putting things together. We’re still dealing with injuries. We’ve only played one game this season with the team that we’re supposed to be.”

On whether he still follows the Cardinals: “Yeah, sure. I look almost daily to see how they’re doing. A lot of time, a lot of hours, a lot of everything good and bad to go through it. It’s really good to see them. They’re getting better and better. John Mabry is an excellent hitting coach. They haven’t missed a beat. If anything, they’re better.”

On being a hitting coach: “When I took the job in 2010, Tony (La Russa) said it’s the hardest job in sports today. I have to agree. It’s not an easy job to deal with everybody’s personality, everybody’s swing. You have to learn everybody, get to know who they are.

“The thing about hitting is that there is never a time when everybody is feeling good. There’s always somebody feeling not good. I’m spending more time at the ballpark as a coach now than I did as a player because there’s so much studying to do, so much studying of the pitchers, so much studying of the hitters. It’s something I love. It’s in my blood. I’m glad I accepted the job in 2010 and hope I’m doing this til the day I die.”

You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at stanmcneal@gmail.com.