Question to Cardinal Nation: Is Mark McGwire the Next Thomas Eagleton?

With each passing day, the St. Louis Cardinals' decision to hire Mark McGwire as hitting coach is becoming a PR disaster of epic dimensions.

Current ballplayers and Hall of Famers alike have turned against him, in many cases, quite bitterly. Ex-Cardinal great and Fox Sports Midwest analyst Jack Clark has no use for Big Mac, nor has Whitey Herzog, or even Adolphus Busch IV, who recently called both the steroid-using confessor and Tony La Russa, his most ardent defender/protector, liars.

It's gotten so awful that influencial baseball writer-commentator Peter Gammons went so far as to write that the situation "has all the feel of Tom Eagleton."

Tom Eagleton? Now there's a new take on the whole sordid affair. Really, Tom Eagleton? A history lesson might be in order, especially for you youngsters under, say, 50 years old.

Eagleton, a three-term U.S. Senator from Missouri, was chosen by George McGovern to be his running mate in 1972. Within hours of his VP confirmation by delegates at the Democratic National Convention, it was revealed that Eagleton had been hospitalized in the past for severe depression and twice received electric shock treatment.

A firestorm erupted, even greater than the one that continues to envelope McGwire. Few people, it seemed, then and now, felt comfortable in voting for a man a heartbeat away from the presidency, who'd once experienced mental health difficulties.

Eagleton withdrew from the ticket July 31, 1972, eighteen days after being chosen.

Like McGwire, Eagleton never talked publicly about his depression before McGovern's tapped him. Then again, he was never asked about his condition. The same cannot be said for McGwire, who spent years denying he ever took steriods.

By evoking Eagleton's name amid the McGwire tempest, Gammons meant chiefly to argue that McGwire, especially by failing to admit to a steroids-strength correlation, is almost certain to create a huge distraction for the club -- in the same way Eagleton might too have been to the McGovern campaign.

Writes Gammons:

"La Russa likes to control his team, his clubhouse and the environment, but can he control it enough so that McGwire isn't a distraction? If Tony gets his public-relations staff to constantly shoo off cameramen shooting McGwire, what is this going to accompish? Is this going to fan a La Russa-media brush fire?"

He concludes:

"Having McGwire come back to the Cardinals as a hitting coach seemed like a good idea, for him, for the Cardinals players, for St. Louis. And maybe in time, if he and La Russa and the players can wade through the flood of past history they will have to confront, it will work out and the Cardinals will win their second world championship in five years.

"But McGwire, Mozeliak, DeWitt and Selig had better all sit down and think it through, because less than two weeks into the return of Big Mac, this all has the feel of Tom Eagleton."

Whatever the case, it the blood continues to flow unstaunched, it promises to be one hellavu mess when the Redbirds report to Jupiter in 23 days.

To be fair, of course, serving as hitting coach is not in the same league as serving as vice president -- except, perhaps, in Cardinal Nation.

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