Introducing Mark McGwire, baseball's newest recluse.

McGwire has decided, with the endorsement of the St. Louis Cardinals, that media ground rules are necessary as he pursues one of the most glamorous single-season records in sports - 61 home runs. The man has muscles on his muscles. He wants rules; give him rules. He'll get no argument here.So from now on, anybody who wants to hear what McGwire thinks about The Home Run Chase will have to do it on a rigid schedule.

On the road, McGwire will do an informal interview for about a half-hour beginning 31/2 hours before the first game of each series. Media types who show up on the second or third day of the series will be out of luck.

At home, there will be no formal pregame access, and any interview requests must be set up in advance.

Now, let's see who is in the appointment book today. Maybe the Cardinals should give out numbers like they do in department stores for kids waiting to see Santa Claus. No appointment. No interview. Rules are rules.

McGwire, of course, will also be available after games to discuss the game and nothing but the game. Not Roger Maris, not The Chase. Just that day's game.

There will be no telephone or live-shot TV interviews because too many people want to do them and the man has only so much time.

The restrictions went into effect shortly after McGwire passed the halfway point on the road to Maris. Are the rules a sign of pressure setting in? Maris, remember, facing a much smaller media mob, lost patches of hair as his season and chase progressed.

This, though, is only June. If MacZilla is getting squeamish now, wait until August when blast furnace temperatures start heating up The Chase. Wait until recalcitrant pitchers decide to stop challenging him and give him nothing to hit. Wait until then.

By then, McGwire will be the Greta Garbo of sluggers. Expect him to show up one day wearing sun glasses, hiding under a floppy hat and demanding to be alone.

Particularly galling for him has been the fuss created by batting practice when he tees off on coach Dave McKay, who has given up, oh, 15,000 or so batting practice homers to the big guy over the years. Everything stops when McGwire steps in. Fans, media, other players are all riveted to the show.

This, McGwire has decided, is a bad thing. He feels cornered by all the attention. So now, batting practice is not a given for him. McGwire says he will skip it sometimes. And fans who come for the show can watch Royce Clayton or Delino DeShields swing instead of Big Mac.

All of this, the Cardinals say, is necessary because of the fuss McGwire's moon-shot home runs have caused. The condition is exacerbated by the frequency with which he hits them. This gets people excited and causes questions to be asked of a man who wants nothing more than a little peace and quiet.

Here's a friendly suggestion for McGwire.

Pack a lunch pail every morning and become a plumber. The pay isn't quite as good but at least nobody bothers them while they're working.