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McGwire Talks His Dad Battling Polio, Hearing Schoendienst’s Baseball Stories

It’s hard to believe 20 years have passed since Mark McGwire’s 70 homers in the summer of 1998 (and even harder to believe his son Matt is now 30), but here we all are feeling older from the knowledge.

Jokes aside, it’s always great when Big Mac our airwaves, which he took time from his busy schedule to do twice in a day during his recent trip here as Padres bench coach. In honor of ‘Dad’s Week,’ McGwire discussed his own dad’s long battle with Polio and how it influenced him to persevere throughout his career. Mac also discussed being a dad himself and his relationship with the late, great Red Schoendienst.

You can read portions of McGwire’s exclusive 101 ESPN chats below, which are followed by full audio from his visits with ‘The Bernie Miklasz Show’ and ‘The Kevin Wheeler Show.’

On his dad’s background and their relationship:

“Unfortunately, he was stricken with Polio when he was seven years old. Back in the day they did not have a vaccine. As he grew up his right leg did not grow as much as his left so he had a limp. He had to have a shoe lift of, I would have to say four to five inches put on the heels of his shoes.

“But one smart individual. He went to dental school at the University of Washington, did his undergrad at Gonzaga, and had five boys. Really, all five of them could have been special athletes. Two of them did; myself, and my brother Dan played in the NFL for five years.

“To think back about what he had to go through back in those days with Polio…The one thing I always bring up when I talk about my dad is he loved golf. Golf was like one of the first sports that we as kids ever played. He would never take a golf cart. He would walk and he would carry his clubs.

“To think back…Our dad’s our dad, you know? That’s just the way we know him, and to think about how he persevered through all that and didn’t let that handicap really ruin what he wanted to do…It made me persevere as an athlete when I think about what he had to go through. You have to fight through it and it doesn’t matter. Those are the things I go back to.”

On his relationship with Schoendienst and Red telling stories of the old school:

“Well, he’s Cardinals baseball. Baseball lost a gem of a person, a gem of a Major League player. 10-time All-Star, five-time World Series champion, and second to Tony [La Russa] in managerial wins for the Cardinals. It’s unbelievable to think of what he’s done in this game.

“He was my locker mate as a coach when I got back in 2010. He’s at the ballpark every day, putting his uni on, walking around with his fungo, and just talking baseball; what it was like, him and Stan [Musial], roommates, stories, the train rides, the day ballgames, the way life was back then.

“Fans came to the ballpark in suits and ties and hats and women dressed up. To think and put yourself back in that, that’s just awesome to play during that time and we all know he’s upstairs with Stan right now just having a great time and talking ball. Maybe they’re playing ball.”

On offering his own kids baseball guidance:

“I do get nervous when I watch my boys play because you try to steer them in the right direction. You try to give them some information and some advice and fine tuning and then when you see those things not really come to fruition yet, you know it’s just a matter of time.

“It’s a growing thing…I deal with it on an everyday basis as a coach. You see it in 25-year-ols who don’t really get it. It’s just the way it is, but the thing is I know my boys have the athletic ability to be an athlete, to be a baseball player. Now it’s just a matter of if they want to put it together and really do it.”

“I watch all these young kids today who have these personal hitting coaches, and I go, ‘What are they being taught?’ It racks my head. I go, ‘Wow, they’re totally misunderstanding what they’re trying to get across to them.”

More – Miklasz – Reality Check: We Keep Expecting the Cardinals to Get Better, But Why?