Big Make has, once again, left the yard.
After refusing the Cardinals contract tender, Mark McGwire is headed to Los Angeles to join the Dodgers as their hitting coach.
This will be the first time since 1997 that McGwire will wear another uniform other than the Cardinals.
Ok, ok. From 2002 through 2009, McGwire didn't technically wear any uniform, but when he came back to baseball in 2010, he did so as a Cardinal.
It's hard to remember now, but that spring training was the first of a still ongoing string of dramatic story lines that have ushered in a new season. See: McGwire '10, Pujols '11, Wainwright's Arm '11, Defending Champs '12...
He was the steroid era poster boy. Ripped out of his mind. Crushing balls into places Busch Stadium II never had seen before so much so he started a promotion that still endures today (Big Mac Land).
And his re-entry into baseball after becoming the first of the 500 HR club to get rejected for a Hall of Fame entry pass was a national story. He did a full mea culpa with Bob Costas. He met ESPN behind the batting cage to apologize some more. He was contrite, but confident.
He led the '10 Birds to a .263 average. They finished 5 games in the rear of the Reds for 1st in the NL Central.
But the traveling circus that many (yours included) predicted would greet Mark along the road never materialized. Instead, America shrugged. And Big Mac worked hard to become a better coach in '11.
Ended up winning the World Series. Damn near made it again in '12.
What part of that success can be attributed to McGwire's coaching is up for debate. He helped develop young hitters like Allen Craig, David Freese and others into MLB caliber. He also was blamed for prolonged slumps that plagued the Cardinals chances of doing more in the past three years.
The Cardinals will find a replacement. And that replacement won't hold 1/10th of the gravitas that Big Mac does.
The Cardinals will be OK.
I guess the bigger question here is how are we supposed to feel? We being Cardinal fans. After all, we were the ones that got roped into 1998. We were the ones that believed that bottle of Andro was nothing more than supplement advice gone astray. We were the ones that had to swallow deep and admit were were a bit naive after he admitted he dopped. We were the ones that welcomed him back into baseball when no other fan base slash ball club would.
Now he's moving on.
You can't begrudge a guy wanting to be close to his family. Then again, his wife is from St. Louis and he's worked here on an off for the better part of the past 15 years. Or almost 1/3 of Mark's life.
You can't get miffed at a guy getting a better job. Then again, the Dodgers didn't make the 2012 playoffs, didn't win the 2011 World Series and don't have same level of passionate fan base the Cardinals do.
You can't be steamed at a guy making more money, Then again, whatever Mark's raise may or may not be, can't be more than the interest on the money he banked from being the most high profile star in baseball during the late 90's when contracts were exploding.
Point is... I'm not sure how much of a loss this is for the Cardinals, but I'm kind of pissed.
Can't explain it fully. Not yet, at least.
But it feels like we've nursed a wounded man back to health, only to see that loyalty isn't cutting both ways. (Yes, he took less to stay with the Cardinals in his last playing contract. Yes, he walked away from guaranteed $ in lieu of playing sub-par his final 2 seasons. Then again, he did cheat...)
Maybe all this will become clearer as we move away from it.
Right now, it feels like Mark McGwire has let us down.