JUPITER, Fla. (Tuesday, February 23, 1999) - Thanks to his home run hitting ability, Mark McGwire won an Espy.
His teammates and manager think that after his appearance Monday night on the TV program "Mad About You," he deserves an Emmy.
"Whoever coached him for that appearance, we ought to hire," said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. "He was outstanding - surprisingly. I was really impressed. I didn't expect him to be anywhere near that good."
The higher-ups were just as impressed.
"He might be the next John Wayne," St. Louis Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty said." "I think if he wanted to, he'd be pretty good at it."
Of course, not everyone was that complimentary. After all, McGwire played himself.
"He shouldn't quit his day job," pitching coach Dave Duncan joked.
Landing in bed on screen with Helen Hunt was one of the highlights of McGwire's hectic offseason. He didn't appear until late in the half-hour show and didn't have a lot of lines, but pulled off his role without a hitch in one of those mistaken-identity, wrong-room routines.
His best line came at the end, when he and Hunt were at the breakfast table on the morning after. Paul Reiser walked in wearing a Cardinals uniform, continuing the role reversal theme.
"You remember, they're going to throwing you junk all year long," McGwire said. "So just wait for your pitch."
Then he gave Hunt a quick kiss. Leaving character and returning to McGwire the baseball player, he raised an arm in triumph as if he'd just taken someone deep.
According to the overnight Nielsen ratings, the McGwire appearance didn't necessarily hit a home run. The NBC show ranked third in its time slot behind the WB's "7th Heaven" and ABC's "20/20."
"I think it would be tough to be an actor all the time," pitcher Alan Benes said. "He was probably more nervous doing that than anytime in his life. That's probably a lot harder than facing a pitcher."
McGwire's only misstep Monday came when he missed a team party and screening at a local restaurant. McGwire apparently forgot about the back entrance the Cardinals had waiting for him and tried to go in the front door. When he saw TV cameras and fans waiting, he turned around.
"The notoriety he's gained, people want a piece of him," Jocketty said. "You'd be surprised at the unbelievable requests we get, from media and fans. They don't understand."
The Cardinals are taking steps to protect McGwire as much as possible. Though he showed up at camp Monday - two days ahead of schedule - he's not speaking with reporters until after full-squad workouts start Wednesday. His interview time throughout spring and the season will be regulated.
"We'll make time to talk the first few days," La Russa said. "There are certain things he doesn't want to talk about after that point, like `How'd it feel to hit 70?' If somebody tries to push him on it, they're not going to be very happy, because he's just not going to talk about it."
McGwire took some batting practice in an indoor cage Monday. On Tuesday he muscled up outside with 11 home runs in two BP turns, signed several autographs and then called it a day.
"Did you expect differently?" pitcher Matt Morris said. "Eleven homers, that's weak for him, isn't it?"
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