Cardinals Major League Notebook: 01/20/10

St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa defends his new hitting coach Mark McGwire.



   Manager Tony La Russa said he was willing to put his reputation on the line for former A's and Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire.


   Insisting he had no knowledge of McGwire's steroid use in Oakland and St. Louis before receiving a telephone call from McGwire on the morning of Jan. 11, La Russa said he didn't have second thoughts about hiring McGwire as Cardinals hitting coach.


   "As a product of what's been happening, I'm sure I'm going to take some shots," La Russa told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "It's part of the job. In this case, I've heard people don't believe I didn't know. You either believe me or you don't. If you don't, I can't do anything other than tell you what I'm saying."


   La Russa said he believed McGwire's claim that he used steroids and human growth hormone to recover from injury more than to enhance his power.


   "Certainly I wish we had testing then," La Russa said. "But it wasn't a case where he was using to improve his talent. It doesn't make it right, but it does make it easier for me to swallow.


   "I'm mostly encouraged that he was forthcoming. He's done it better than the other guys by saying, 'I did this. I did that. It was a big mistake.' Am I disappointed? Sure."


   La Russa said he had made it clear to McGwire in October he would have to address media curiosity about his past in order to reduce distractions that were likely to arise in spring training.


   "When you ask him to be a hitting coach, it's not a week, 10-day or two-week thing," La Russa said. "My No. 1 motivation was I felt he has something special to translate to our hitters. If the guy was a derelict, I wouldn't do it. He has to want to do it. I put my credibility on the line with him because I thought it would work and that he would pass the test of public scrutiny. You can't do (a media tour) in spring training. It's too distracting."




   --RF Ryan Ludwick has agreed to a one-year, $5.45 million contract with the Cardinals, avoiding arbitration. Ludwick hit .265 with 22 home runs and 97 RBIs last season.


   --OF Jim Edmonds, who was out of baseball last year, has asked Cardinals manager Tony La Russa for a tryout. Edmonds, 39, played seven seasons with the Angels and eight with the Cardinals before splitting 2008 between the Padres and the Cubs. He hit .235 with 20 homers and 55 RBIs that year.


   --Mark McGwire dismissed manager Cardinals manager Tony La Russa's recent offhand suggestion that the club might activate the new hitting coach as a pinch hitter for the August and September stretch drive. McGwire, hitting often in the offseason, said, "It's like being on a bike again. I feel really good. It feels like I haven't lost a step after nine years (out of the game). I'm 46, and I feel like 25. But it's not about me. I'm the hitting coach. I don't see where I'm going to have the time to get ready like that."


   --2B Skip Schumaker, one of Mark McGwire's students for several years in an offseason hitting program in California, said, "He's so passionate about it. Until you come here and watch, nobody really knows how passionate. That's what everyone is about to understand."


   --The Cardinals, with not much money available, still are in the hunt for a veteran outfielder, a veteran reliever and some possible infield help at third base. They had RHP Jose Valverde on their radar for a spell, but Valverde signed a two-year deal with Detroit at $14 million, well out of the Cardinals' price range.


   --1B Albert Pujols either won or shared the St. Louis Baseball Man of the Year for the ninth straight time as chosen by the St. Louis Baseball Writers' Association. This year, Pujols shared the honor with former Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog, a new Hall of Famer, at the local Baseball Writers' Association of America chapter's 52nd dinner.


   --OF Jon Jay, a candidate for an extra man's job this year, was hitting .323 with a .418 on-base percentage in the Venezuelan winter league. Jay hit .281 with 10 homers for Pacific Coast League champion Memphis last season.


   BY THE NUMBERS: 220 -- Homers hit by Mark McGwire in 4 1/2 seasons with the Cardinals.


   QUOTE TO NOTE: "A lot of them should be banned from baseball, including Mark McGwire." -- Former Cardinals 1B Jack Clark, on steroids users in baseball.




   The Cardinals didn't have many needs as the season ended although they probably could use one more veteran starting pitcher to go with RHPs Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Kyle Lohse. RHPs Joel Pineiro and Todd Wellemeyer, who filled out the rotation, both likely will be gone as free agents.


   BIGGEST NEEDS: Third base becomes a question mark with Mark DeRosa having left as a free agent.


   ARRIVAL: RHP Brad Penny (free agent from Giants).


   DEPARTURES: RHP Brad Thompson (released, signed minor league deal with Royals), INF Joe Thurston (free agent, signed minor league deal with Braves), 3B Troy Glaus (free agent, signed with Braves), INF Mark DeRosa (free agent, signed with Giants), INF Khalil Greene (free agent, signed with Rangers, pending physical).


   FREE AGENTS: RHP Joel Pineiro, RHP Todd Wellemeyer, RHP John Smoltz, OF Rick Ankiel.

   The Cardinals have some interest in Smoltz. The others probably are gone.



   Schumaker will make more as a second baseman than an outfielder.




   --1B Albert Pujols (arthroscopic right elbow surgery in October 2009) should be back at full strength for spring training.

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