McGwire finally traded -- to Cards
Steve Kettmann, SF Chronicle Staff Writer
August 1, 1997 - The end of the Mark McGwire era had been looming for so long, yesterday's announcement that the A's had traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals for right-handers T.J. Mathews, Eric Ludwick and Blake Stein came as almost a relief -- to the A's and especially to McGwire.
``I think probably the weirdest thing will be putting on red shoes,'' McGwire joked.
``I'm very excited to be reunited with Tony (La Russa), the coaching staff and some former teammates. I personally think I need to change. I think this deal is good for me and for the Oakland A's. . . . It's not going to be easy, but you come to a crossroads in your life where change is good for you.''
McGwire had not disguised his growing frustration with the A's direction, and he made public remarks that were critical of owners Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann, final proof that there was no way he would have signed a new deal with the team after this season.
``It was killing him inside to come to the park every day and try to find things to play for,'' teammate and close friend Jason Giambi said.
That meant the A's faced a bleak choice between watching McGwire leave as a free agent after this year, and receive only draft picks as compensation, or trade him now and turn the rest of a grim season into an outright downer.
``I would say it's going to be pretty interesting the next couple of years to see what the new owners are going to do,'' McGwire said. ``The fans will come if you win.''
Everyone in baseball knew A's general manager Sandy Alderson had to trade McGwire if the A's were going to have any chance of rebuilding, so other teams could afford to press a hard bargain. If La Russa had not been pushing so hard for Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty to get McGwire, it's unlikely the A's could have gotten a deal this potentially promising.
Mathews was anointed as the Cardinals closer of the future, and had an impressive 2.49 ERA for the Cardinals this season. He will join the A's today and get a shot in the setup role, graduating to closer as soon as this season. Ludwick and Stein are both hard-throwing minor-league right-handers.
Then again, the A's have been burned in recent years on trades to the Cardinals. They traded Todd Stottlemyre and Dennis Eckersley to the Cardinals before last season, and both are still going strong. Meanwhile, the players the A's received in return have mostly fallen on hard times:
-- Bret Wagner is out of baseball and working as a courier-service delivery man.
-- Steve Montgomery was just dropped from the 40-man roster.
-- Jay Witasick, bothered by persistent elbow problems, has a 4.15 ERA in just 17 1/3 innings with Single-A Modesto this year.
-- Outfielder Allen Battle is out of baseball.
-- Carl Dale, the one potential bright spot, has a 5-4 record at Double-A Huntsville with a 5.63 ERA.
Alderson was frank in talking about how emotional it was for him to trade McGwire, the first college player he ever scouted for the A's, but he also knew he had a deal that was no embarrassment.
``What I hope is the fans understand we're trying to rebuild this team to a contending level and that sometimes calls for hard decisions,'' he said.
The loss of McGwire closes an era, not just for the A's but also for Alderson. McGwire was the last player who had been with the A's since they swept the Giants in the 1989 World Series. He's gone now, and the team and the fans will no longer be tempted to look back at the glory of recent years. Still, it's not easy to let go.
``I think this is the most difficult thing I've had to face, player- wise,'' Alderson said.
``Mac has been the franchise for a long time,'' former teammate Mike Bordick said. ``That's going to be tough for the organization. To see him not in the uniform will be kind of shocking. He's one of the single-biggest attractions in the game. I'm sure there are going to be a lot of hurt fans.''
McGwire has been so important a leader in recent years, winning the major-league home-run title last season with 52 and taking over as the undisputed clubhouse leader, the news brought a wave of emotion.
``I'll admit, right now this is the saddest day of my career,'' Giambi said. ``But I'm happy for him.''
But they weren't exactly celebrating in the Cardinals clubhouse. The Phillies rallied to win 2-1 in the 10th inning last night, and McGwire will arrive in Philadelphia this afternoon with the task of reviving a team that needs help.
``There will be a period of adjustment,'' Jocketty told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last night. ``We can't expect Mark to come over to a new league and know all the different ballparks and pitchers. There will be some pressure on him, I'm sure, but he's a big boy, he can handle it.''
It won't really sink in for McGwire until he puts on the new uniform and swings the bat in a new league. Or maybe it sunk in late last night.
``I think it will (sink in) later tonight when I make that last drive home on 880 to San Francsico and pack up everything,'' he said. ``The one thing I said was I'd like to stay here until they fixed the Nimitz, and I did. So I did accomplish one thing.''
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