McGwire tells Cards his surgically repaired knee feels "great"

By Rick Hummel, Post-Dispatch Baseball Writer
Friday, November 17, 2000

Mark McGwire, upbeat about his knee? Believe it.

The Cardinals' first baseman, who in effect missed the second half of this season with a damaged tendon in his right knee, called general manager Walt Jocketty a few days ago from California to update Jocketty on his progress. Jocketty could barely believe what he heard.

"I was surprised and obviously happy," said Jocketty. "He said he really feels great.

"He said there was no swelling and he said, 'You can't even tell that I had surgery.' He was very upbeat."

McGwire is working out virtually every day and Cardinals trainer Barry Weinberg has been to California twice to monitor the matter. "I've just got the feeling he's going to have a monster year," said Jocketty.

All along, McGwire had been saying that surgery was the last option. But after the Cardinals were eliminated from the playoffs, a meeting was called involving doctors George Paletta and Jim Loomis of the Cardinals' staff, McGwire, Jocketty, manager Tony La Russa and Weinberg. McGwire was convinced to undergo another Magnetic Resonance Imaging exam.

Then, Paletta finally was able to persuade McGwire to undergo surgery when he told McGwire that he could go months without any significant change in his healing.

"The doctors said that if he had surgery, he might have discomfort but a lot less than what he went through," said Jocketty. "He said (McGwire) would feel like he felt in spring training."

McGwire had 30 homers at the All-Star break and two afterward as he was able to bat just 15 times in the second half of the season.

Also on the injury front, righthander Garrett Stephenson, who underwent an MRI last week here for his ailing right elbow, will not have to have surgery and says he is feeling good.

"We just knew there were some pulled muscles in there and some stretched ligaments," said Stephenson. "Nothing was torn and I'm able to do everyday activities."

Stephenson, who made slightly more than $500,000 last year, is due a large raise for next year but he wants to stay beyond 2001.

"I'm hoping this injury doesn't cause them not to give me more than a one-year deal," he said from his Florida home. "Then I keep thinking that if they do sign me, they could trade me anyway. That would be horrible."

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The Cardinals haven't made an offer to lefthander Mike Hampton, but they plan to. But, said Jocketty, "We've got to be careful how much we commit."

By that, Jocketty meant both number of years and money.

Center fielder Jim Edmonds has a six-year contract, but the Cardinals aren't likely to go that high for a pitcher.

At a lesser level, the Cardinals are exploring Terry Mulholland and John Franco, both free-agent lefthanded relievers. But they don't want to get too carried away till they see what they can do with Hampton.

Righthanders Mike Mussina and Darren Dreifort, two more free agents, have less appeal to the Cardinals, who are looking mostly for lefthanded pitching help. Andy Ashby falls into the same category.

Jocketty also is looking to upgrade his bench but that, too, must take a back seat "before we know what we're doing with our pitching. We want to preserve every dollar for pitching."

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Righthander Chad Hutchinson, who had mostly a lost season this year at Memphis and Arkansas, will be in camp again next spring but the organization is still undecided as to what his best major-league role is.

"We think his future might be in the bullpen," said Jocketty, "but we've got people who think he should start. He'll be in the rotation at Memphis next year."

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The Cardinals probably will re-sign utilityman Shawon Dunston, who hit .250 with 12 homers and 43 runs batted in in only 216 at-bats.

Veteran Eric Davis has not yet decided whether to retire, as he had indicated for most of the season that he would.

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Edmonds, who had career highs in homers (42), runs batted in (108) and strikeouts (167), finished fourth in the Most Valuable Player balloting but he might have won with a decent second half. In the first half, Edmonds was the MVP, hitting .341 with 25 homers. In the second half, when protector McGwire was out, Edmonds batted only .238 with 17 homers.

His on-base percentage in the first half was .452 and it was just .360 in the second half.

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Edmonds will be honored as the St. Louis Baseball Man of the Year by the St. Louis baseball writers at their 43rd annual dinner Monday, Jan. 22 at the Regal Riverfront Hotel.

Tickets are priced at $100 apiece and $1,000 for a table of 10 and can be obtained by sending a check or money order to St. Louis BBWAA, P.O. Box 605, St. Louis, Mo., 63188.

Other Cardinals to be saluted include 20-game winner Darryl Kile, Gold Glove catcher Mike Matheny, McGwire, .300-hitting second baseman Fernando Vina, sparkplug first baseman Will Clark who has just retired and Stephenson.

Jocketty also will be honored for building the division title team, his second in six years.

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