Duncan a student of swing doctor McGwire

The New York Times was able to secure the unthinkable – an interview with exiled slugger Mark McGwire, something the Californian had declined previously. Of course the ground rules were that there was to be no discussion about the past.

The focus was the former St. Louis Cardinals first baseman’s new life as a hitting instructor, a doctor of swings. One of his prize students, Cardinals outfielder Chris Duncan, is enjoying an especially strong spring to date.

The article, which I encourage you to read, offered several interesting tidbits.

  • McGwire agreed to assist the Cardinals as a spring training instructor in 2008, but had to back out at the last moment due to a family matter.
  • Big Mac left the door open to it in the future if it didn’t interfere with his family life, but as previously reported, did not accept Tony La Russa’s offer this spring.
  • McGwire shrugged off the steroids controversy surrounding him by saying, “I’m such an easygoing guy. I don’t need to sweep away any bitterness.”
  • His four students this winter were Matt Holliday and Bobby Crosby of the Oakland Athletics, along with Duncan and Skip Schumaker of the Cardinals.

It was known that Holliday moved to Southern California to work out with McGwire at the University of California at Irvine and Schumaker is from the area. A June, 2008 USA Today article also notes McGwire often appears at Total Baseball in Huntington Beach, California.

Though they’re from Arizona, Chris Duncan’s brother Shelly of the New York Yankees also spent a week getting pointers from McGwire in October, 2006.

The weighting of the various possible causes for Chris Duncan’s encouraging rebirth this spring cannot be simply determined, but the results speak for themselves. Through 12 games and 30 at-bats, just three off the team lead, the 27-year-old is smacking the ball all over Florida parks.

His line is a most impressive and mathematically pure .333/.400/.600, for an OPS of 1.000. That includes three extra base hits, a triple and two home runs. Duncan’s RBI total of ten only trails Joe Mather’s 13 among Cardinals.

In addition to the offensive results, Duncan’s defense at his natural position, first base, was praised by Cardinals radio broadcasters John Rooney and Mike Shannon on Thursday. Duncan was given a start there in place of resting Albert Pujols.

Following the removal of a herniated cervical disc in his neck with a titanium replacement inserted last August, Duncan is apparently healthy for the first time since 2007. The first-ever type surgery for a professional athlete seems to have been entirely successful.

As such, an already crowded St. Louis outfield derby is getting even tighter.

Duncan could be another Cardinals player hoping that Schumaker will succeed in his difficult attempt to convert to a second baseman. Though different kinds of players, both are left-handed hitting outfielders capable of starting in the one remaining outfield position up for grabs on the 2009 Cardinals.

Along with Schumaker at the top of the lineup, La Russa has often discussed his desire for “danger” in the number two spot in his batting order in front of Pujols. Duncan has been tried in that spot before and could be placed there again once the season begins.

If Chris Duncan is truly back, he certainly would have reason to thank his doctors – Dr. Daniel Riew, the surgeon who repaired his neck, along with his swing doctor, Mark McGwire.