Mark McGwire: hitting coach

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Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has an in depth article on Mark McGwire today. And — surprise! — it’s about Mark McGwire the hitting coach, not Mark McGwire the sideshow freak:

“I used to have a different swing for every type of pitch, like it was
this advanced game of pepper up there,” [Brendan] Ryan said while taking batting
practice with McGwire at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo. “It’s
like in the minors, when I’d do these different impersonations of
hitters. I’d do Babe Ruth. I’d do Albert Pujols. … I’d have good
swings, but I didn’t know why, I didn’t know how it happened. “It’s like Mac has this scientific formula for what goes into a good
swing,” Ryan said, “and that’s what we’ve been working on. Knowing what
swing works”  . . .

. . . “This is not to take away from the other hitting coaches I’ve had, but
there is so much more instruction I’ve had from working with Mac,” said
[Skip] Schumaker. “I can’t imagine what it will be like to have him there,
right with us, all year. I feel kind of like an only child. I don’t
really want to share him.”

In some ways these types of things are the coaching equivalent of “best shape of his life” articles. Every year someone has been working with young players in the cage or the bullpen. Every new coach has articles written about his fresh approach or devotion to videotape or whatever.  I’m always kind of dubious of these things, especially when it comes to hitting coaches, because my pet theory on hitting coaches is that while they can do a lot of harm — see every Braves hitting coach since, I dunno, Clarence Jones — they don’t really do a heck of a lot of good relative to the praise they receive.

But McGwire is obviously a special case. For the steroids media circus, sure, but also because so many people assume that a big power hitter who struck out a lot can truly be an effective hitting coach.  Will he get the same hitting coach honeymoon others get if his guys start out raking? Will he get the same amount of blame others get when they slump? Will everything that happens with the Cardinals’ offense be seen through the McGwire-hyperbole-prism that was constructed a couple of months ago?

That may be the second most interesting question in Cardinal-land this season.

Nick Markakis: ‘I play a kids’ game and get paid a lot of money. How can I be disappointed with that?’

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Earlier today, the Braves inked veteran outfielder Nick Markakis to a one-year deal worth $4 million with a club option for the 2020 season worth $6 million with a $2 million buyout. Though Markakis is 35 years old, he’s coming off of a terrific season in which he played in all 162 games and hit .297/.366/.440 with 14 home runs and 93 RBI in 705 trips to the plate. Markakis had just completed a four-year, $44 million contract, so he took a substantial pay cut.

Per David O’Brien of The Athletic, Markakis asked his kids where they wanted him to play and they said Atlanta. O’Brien also asked Markakis about the pay cut. The outfielder said, “I’m not mad at all. I play a kids’ game and get paid a lot of money. How can I be disappointed with that?”

This seemingly innocuous comment by Markakis is actually damaging for his peers and for the union. Baseball as a game is indeed a “kids’ game,” but Major League Baseball is a billion-dollar business that has been setting revenue records year over year. The players have seen a smaller and smaller percentage of the money MLB makes since the beginning of the 2000’s. Furthermore, Markakis only gets paid “a lot of money” relative to, say, a first-year teacher or a clerk at a convenience store. Relative to the value of Liberty Media, which owns the Braves, and relative to the value of Major League Baseball itself, Markakis’s salary is a drop in the ocean.

That Markakis is happy to take a pay cut is totally fine, but it’s harmful for him to publicly justify that because it creates the expectation that his peers should feel the same way and creates leverage for ownership. His comments mirror those who sympathize first and foremost with billionaire team owners. They are common arguments used to justify paying players less, giving them a smaller and smaller cut of the pie. Because Markakis not only took a pay cut but defended it, front office members of the Braves as well as the 29 other teams can point to him and guilt or shame other players for asking for more money.

“Look at Nick, he’s a team player,” I envision a GM saying to younger Braves player who is seeking a contract extension, or a free agent looking to finally find a home before spring training. “Nick’s stats are as good as yours, so why should you make more money than him?”

Contrast Markakis’s approach with Yasmani Grandal‘s. Grandal reportedly turned down a four-year, $60 million contract offer from the Mets early in the offseason and settled for a one-year, $18.25 million contract with the Brewers. Per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, Grandal said on MLB Network, “I felt like part of my responsibility as a player was to respect the guys that went through this process before I did. Guys like Brian McCann, Russell Martin, Yadier Molina, These are guys who established markets and pay levels for upper-tier catchers like me. I felt like I was doing a disservice if I were to take some of the deals that were being thrown around. I wanted to keep the line moving especially for some of the younger guys that are coming up … to let them know, if you’re worthy, then you should get paid what you’re worth. That’s where I was coming from.”

Grandal’s comments are exactly what a member of a union should be saying, unapologetically. The MLBPA needs to get all of its members on the same page when it comes to discussing contracts or labor situations in general publicly. What Markakis said seems selfless and innocent — and I have no doubt he is being genuine without malice — but it could reduce the bargaining power players have across the table from ownership, which means less money. They are already being bamboozled, at least until the next collective bargaining agreement. They don’t need to be bamboozled any more.