McGwire is more than happy to let Griffey have the attention

By: of the Post-Dispatch

JUPITER, Fla. - He has been there and done that. And now Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire can kick back, laugh a little and see somebody else under the microscope.

Four reporters talked to McGwire in the Cardinals' clubhouse upon his arrival in camp Tuesday, and a half dozen or so TV crews did later. But Ken Griffey Jr., recently traded to Cincinnati, dealt with 65 news organizations and some 150 journalists Monday in Sarasota, Fla. The circus hasn't necessarily left town, but it will play in other venues.

"I'm so used to it. It doesn't matter anymore," McGwire said. "It's second nature to me.

"But it will be nice for somebody else to go through what I was going through. When the (Griffey) trade was done, I thought, 'Now, I can sit back and blend in.'"

Griffey, after starring in one league for 10 years, will go to another league as a superstar. It's the same thing McGwire did in 1997, when Oakland sent him to the Cardinals.

"The one thing he'll have to deal with is what I went through - going into a lot of new cities and all the fans wanting to see him take batting practice," McGwire said. "This is something I went through for two years, and I wasn't used to it. If I didn't take batting practice, the fans were on me. If I didn't do it, the media was on me. If he wants to call me, I'll give him a little advice.

"It's going to happen to him. People don't know a lot about Ken. They know he's a great player, but the interviews will be coming left and right. The media requests are going to be very demanding.

"The first time around will be a little circus, like (former Cardinals catcher) Tom Lampkin used to say.

"There were 150 reporters over there (in Sarasota), and I started laughing," McGwire said. "How soon they forget about last year."

That is fine with McGwire. "I'm in a real good place right now," he said. "Last year, I was very stressed out in spring training. I'm definitely more at ease, but if it's big, I'm well prepared for it."

This winter, after the Cardinals had floundered with McGwire hitting first 70 and then 65 home runs in his first two full seasons with the club, general manager Walt Jocketty acquired almost a new pitching staff.

McGwire, who defers a quarter to a third of his money every year to help the Cardinals acquire talent, said, "I called Walt this winter and told him what a great job he did, when he and (manager) Tony La Russa got together and figured some of the trades they needed to make and some of the free agents we needed to sign. There's almost too much in the clubhouse. There's so much they can play with."

Griffey also deferred much of his $116 million, nine-year contract.

"I like what Ken did over there," McGwire said. "It would be nice if more ballplayers followed that suit instead of trying to get every last dime."

In the offseason, McGwire agreed to an $11 million contract option for 2001, when he probably could have extracted much more.

"I'm very happy where I am," McGwire said. "If you can't be happy making $11 million, you'd better check yourself into a psych (psychiatric) ward. I make enough money as it is. There's nothing for me to complain about.

"What are we all here for? We're here to try to win. The salaries are sort of ridiculous right now."

While McGwire's greater goal is a championship, he would like to hit 50 homers again - that would make five years in a row.

"Fifty always has been a legitimate thing," he said. Only 16 players in baseball history have hit 50 home runs in a season. "Everything over that is icing," McGwire said.

He said there was no doubt that Griffey could hit close to 70 homers.

"But it's not the numbers. He'd be dealing with the media. That's the biggest thing," McGwire said.

McGwire said he considered his 1999 season better than 1998 even though his home run total declined by five. He won his first runs batted in championship with 147, five ahead of Arizona's Matt Williams.

"Nobody talked about that. It seems like everybody said, 'Oh, ho hum,"' McGwire said.

Last year at this time, McGwire, 36, said he hoped to play five more years. Now he says, "I'm going to play as long as I can play. I don't know if I want to put a limit on it. Hopefully, we don't have a snag after next year," he said, referring to a possible labor dispute. "If we get locked out or something, I will walk away from the game. I would be embarrassed to be a baseball player. We're making way too much money."

Jocketty, who said he was more than willing to discuss more years and more money with McGwire, said, "He wants to wait till this labor situation is over. He said, 'I don't want to commit to a contract that I won't be able to honor.' But he said, 'I plan to finish my career as a Cardinal.'"

As of now, McGwire no longer is the home run champion. Jose Canseco, his former Oakland "Bash Brother" teammate, beat him in the second round of a players' association Home Run Derby taped recently in Las Vegas.

"We had a great battle," said McGwire. "He beat me in extra innings."

| Previous Page |