Where were we...? He decided to stop being a guess hitter and start being a smart hitter. During the two years, 1993 and '94, when he was able to play only 74 games because of injuries to his left heel, he began to sit behind the plate with the scouts and study pitchers. He changed his swing to finish with a one-hand extension for more power. He learned to close his eyes and hit. Not during the game—the night before, visualizing where the pitch might come and at what speed. "Just take what they give you," Doug Radar, one of his hitting coaches with the A's, told him. That became McGwire's motto. He becomes so focused on the game that most days he has no idea what day or date it is. "I'm useless during the season," he says.
Not really. "It's hard to even compare him now with any other time," says La Russa, who also managed McGwire in Oakland. "He's so much better now. He's better conditioned. His swing is quicker. His stroke is much more repeatable. Now, he thinks all the time."
But, most of all, he discovered a missing father. Himself. "Everything I do in life and in baseball now is for my son," Mark says, and that's obvious from the small Olan Mills gallery that has broken out all over his locker and in his home. Photographs of Matt, now 10, are everywhere. As far as Mark is concerned, every day is Take Your Son to Work Day. The Cardinals let Matt be a batboy. Mark had it written into his contract that Matt has a guaranteed seat on any team charter. Do they talk? They never shut up. "We talk all the time," Mark says. "We talk about everything. If there's one thing I've learned, you have to talk. We talk so much that sometimes we don't even have to use words. We just look at each other and know what the other is thinking."
And it's a look Mark gives his son for disapproval, not his belt or the back of his hand. "Therapy brought out some things about my childhood that I don't want out in the open," Mark says. "People raise their children the way they think they should, but it doesn't mean it's the right way. I could never, ever see me raising a hand to Matt. Never."
Matt lives with his mom full time, and Mark wants it that way. Besides, Mark's house in Orange County is only five minutes away. He has become friends with Kathy's husband, Tom Williamson, a manager in the collision repair field. You go over to the Williamsons' house in the off-season, you're likely to find McGwire hanging, all of them grilling burgers or playing golf. "People ask me, 'How do you compete with a guy like that?' " says Tom. "I always answer, 'You don't.' I don't have to. Mark's such a great guy."
Still, it's not easy to say good night. "Sometimes I wish I could go back and do my marriage all over again," says McGwire, who vows not to marry again until his career is over and he can stay home. "It'd be a lot better. I think if I'd known what I know now, it would've lasted."
The consolation prize is a peace he never knew he was missing. McGwire is asked, If your house were on fire, and Matt was safe outside, and you could save only one thing, what would it be?
"Mart's already outside safe?"
"What would I go in and get?"