NEW A'S OUTFIELDER Matt Holliday shared fascinating revelations Thursday about Mark McGwire. But these weren't the tawdry, slimy tales about past steroid use that McGwire's estranged brother, Jay, alleges in a proposed book now making headlines.
Holliday's remarks were fascinating, because, well, only a day earlier, he was taking batting practice under McGwire's tutelage in Orange County.
He's not only seen baseball's home-run hermit. He's worshiping at his batting-cage temple. Holliday hits with him three or four days a week.
"He's really good at the mechanics of hitting," Holliday said. "He's excellent at teaching hitting."
This might set off alarms for those concerned McGwire is teaching Holliday more than hitting. That's what happens when a legacy is tarnished by accusations of performance-enhancing drug use, accusations fueled by the words of an ex-teammate (Jose Canseco) and even a family member (Jay McGwire, whose claims are being corroborated by his ex-fiance.)
If you're the A's, this is a slippery slope, to have your new toy (Holliday) associating and taking tips from one of baseball's most suspected steroid users (McGwire).
But in hearing Holliday explain his connection with McGwire, this sounds like a positive union, and a clean one. They're two ballplayers enamored with the art of hitting a baseball.
Holliday wouldn't comment about the accusations dogging McGwire, other than to defend McGwire's character and generosity.
For a welcome change, someone wasn't talking about McGwire's past, though if you need more on that, check out deadspin.com to read excerpts of Jay McGwire's latest accusations, including how he introduced his brother to steroids in 1994.
Holliday, instead, opened a window to the modern-day McGwire, a recluse since leaving the big leagues in 2001 and testifying (if you can call it that) on Capitol Hill in 2005.
Holliday wouldn't comment on whether his impression of McGwire would change if McGwire admitted taking steroids during a career highlighted by his record-setting 70 home runs in 1998.
"He's a fantastic guy. He loves to talk about hitting," Holliday said. "He's so generous to the minor leaguers and kids around (Irvine). He's extremely generous and helpful."
Holliday is entering the biggest season of his career. His contract expires at season's end. He'll be a hot commodity, ready to rake in a nine-figure contract.
He spent his first five seasons with the Colorado Rockies before they traded him this offseason to the A's, whose cost-conscious ways and rebuilding effort make it a fair bet that Holliday is simply trade bait and will be gone by August.
Surprisingly, Holliday thinks Oakland will be his home throughout the 2009 season (although he is wisely planning to rent, not buy, his living quarters).
"I figure we're going to be pretty good, so they won't want to get rid of me," Holliday said of the A's chances in the American League West, which he thinks were bolstered by Jason Giambi's recent return to the A's.
Any talk about McGwire is surely not the hype the A's hoped to generate at Thursday's Media Day at the Coliseum. But this was Holliday's first meet-and-greet with the Bay Area press corps, and he was able to put a new face on McGwire.
How did Holliday meet McGwire? When the Rockies were in Southern California for an interleague series against the Angels in 2006, introductions were arranged through Rockies assistant coach Mike Gallego, a former teammate of McGwire's with the A's.
Gallego, Holliday's batting-practice pitcher, has rejoined the A's this offseason as their third-base coach.
"They took a liking to each other," Gallego said of McGwire and Holliday. "They have a lot of the same qualities, as far as their size and the expectations of when they walk up to the plate. Him and Mac clicked well. Both are guys that are not afraid to work. He's been good to him."
Holliday openly credited with McGwire in recent seasons for helping develop his power stroke. But the gist of their relationship was occasional chats until this offseason, when Holliday moved to Orange County to hit under McGwire's watchful eye.
"Mac's (hitting) theories are very basic, very simple," Gallego added.
Holliday explained McGwire's philosophies as: "If you want to get technical, the bat path should be very direct to the ball. Get short to the ball and long after hitting it. See it with your eyes, then the eyes tell the mind, and the mind tells the body."
The sad sidenote to all this is that McGwire's knowledge about hitting is being confined to his Orange County sanctuary. Former A's manager Tony La Russa has tried, unsuccessfully, to have McGwire come out of hiding and serve as a hitting instructor in spring training with the St. Louis Cardinals.
"Tony's been trying to get him to come out. It's obviously not the right time to (McGwire)," Gallego said. "I know he misses the camaraderie of the game, the teaching part, the learning part. He misses the dynamics of the game.
"He's getting his fill with Holliday and teaching local kids."
A's manager Bob Geren doesn't know McGwire well, so don't expect him to show up in A's camp, unless Holliday really pushes for it. That's unlikely, as Holliday seems to be getting enough tips from McGwire already.
Geren glowed Thursday in praising Holliday as a "special player," noting his ability to hit with power and for average, as well as being an underrated left fielder.
Yeah, but can Holliday play the role of investigative reporter and ask McGwire about being shunned by Hall of Fame voters in his third year of eligibility?
"We've never talked about it, not once," Holliday responded.
Too bad. We'd all love to hear what McGwire says about his career, in retrospect.
Gallego said whenever he chats with McGwire, they first exchange pleasantries about their respective families, and then McGwire asks about Holliday.
"It's no surprise what talent he has. He's going to fit in great over here," Gallego said of Holliday. "He's just starting to mature. He's about ready to pop that cork. For three of four years (in Colorado), we wanted him to be the leader he's on the verge of becoming."
If McGwire can help Holliday along the way — and if the A's can benefit, and if everything is on the up-and-up as it seems -- this is one step McGwire needed to take to repair his own image. Is it beyond repair? Perhaps in the eyes of Hall of Fame voters. But not in the hitting eye of Holliday, at least.
4Look for Cam Inman's Web-only "Candid Cam" takes whenever there's a breaking sports story, or whenever Cam's got something to say _ in short, just about every day. You can reach Cam at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To Deadspin.com story on Jay McGwire's ex-fiance:
To our "Chin Music" A's blog: www.ibabuzz.com/chinmusic/2009/01/21/mcgwire-outed/