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Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella is duty-bound to hate all things St. Louis Cardinals, but given his amicable relationship with Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa, it’s clear that Piniella doesn’t take his duty very seriously.

And now, he’s gone and said approximately one million positive things about new Cardinals hitting coach / old Cardinals cheater Mark McGwire.

“He worked on his swing endlessly,” Piniella said. “He swung and missed a lot early in his career. He learned how to make contact more and more. With his strength, the ball flew out of the ballpark.” …

Will McGwire have trouble gaining the respect of Cardinals players after acknowledging that he cheated?

“I don’t think so,” Piniella said. “I really don’t.

“He confessed. In this country, they forgive and forget. Who is out there that can’t confess to something? We in this baseball fraternity forgive him.”

Piniella said that since McGwire has been welcomed by Pujols, the Cardinals’ team leader, the rest of the players will accept him.

“Albert Pujols is on his side and that helps him immensely,” Piniella said. “He’s got to look at it as now he has a job to do. He’s got some good hitters to work with. Pujols is the best hitter in the game, so that’s a good start. Give them a little mental confidence and some fine tuning and you let them go. They’re all professionals.”

Although McGwire’s success could mean a few losses for Piniella’s team in its battle for the National League Central title, Piniella wishes the rookie coach well.

“I think he’ll do a nice job,” he said.

Piniella said he does not feel McGwire’s presence on the road will make it difficult for the Cardinals to concentrate on playing baseball.

“I don’t think it will be a distraction,” he said. “It would have been a distraction if he did not have his press conference. That would have been the topic all year long. Now that it’s old news, maybe when he shows up for spring training, the first week or so that topic will be revisited. But hopefully, they’ll leave him alone and let him do his job.”

Another test for McGwire will be how he is treated by boisterous Cubs fans when he visits Wrigley Field.

“I think Cub fans will treat him fine,” Piniella said. “We have a great rivalry. He’ll be accepted well. I think they feel he confessed and it’s over with.” NYTimes.com.

Right or wrong, Chicago Cubs fans will decidedly NOT treat McGwire “fine.” But for the existence of Sammy Sosa, Cubs fans would probably be in a righteous position to condemn McGwire and the Cardinals, and count imaginary N.L. Central titles that the Cardinals stole from the Cubs.

And, Lou, for what it’s worth: the media will definitely not “leave him alone.” This remains a big story, and the decision to bring McGwire on remains a huge boner (tee hee). And it is a decision that lasts all season long.

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