ST. LOUIS, Nov. 12 (UPI) -- Slugger Mark McGwire, whose prodigious power captivated a generation, reportedly has retired.
ESPN reported Sunday that the St. Louis Cardinals first baseman will not return next season.
He would be walking away from a two-year, $30 million contract extension after an injury-plagued season in which he batted just .187 with 29 homers in 299 at-bats. McGwire sazid he felt he was no longer worth the money.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, while expecting McGwire might call it a career, were upset he would tell ESPN of his plans by fax before he would inform them.
"After a considerable discussion with those close to me, I have decided not to sign the extension, as I am unable to perform at a level equal to the salary the organization would be paying me," McGwire said.
"I believe I owe it to the Cardinals and the fans of St. Louis to step aside, so a talented free agent can be brought in as the final piece of what I expect can be a world championship-caliber team," he added.
Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty, when he heard that ESPN had received a fax from McGwire and his representative that the 38-year-old first baseman was retiring, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch angrily, "I know nothing about this. I'm a little upset about this.
"It would shock me that he would tell ESPN before he would tell Tony (manager Tony La Russa) and myself."
La Russa echoed Jocketty's sentiments. La Russa had been quoted as saying a week ago that he felt McGwire would retire, after hitting .187 in an injury-plagued season, but he said Sunday night, "I'd be shocked that he wouldn't tell the Cardinals first."
La Russa said he had tried to speak to McGwire on Thursday but that McGwire was unavailable. Jocketty thought McGwire was out of the country on vacation.
La Russa told the Post-Dispatch late Sunday night, "I'm skeptical enough that until I hear this officially, I don't take the fax as gospel. But he's warned us so much to make plans.
"If I had to guess, I would guess that it is real. But there's no harm in waiting until it becomes official, so I'm going to wait till it becomes official. Or at least till he tells it to somebody besides ESPN."
McGwire, who set the single-season home-run record of 70 in 1998 only to have it broken this year by San Francisco's Barry Bonds, who hit 73, had been bothered by a sore right knee for the last two years.
He underwent surgery after the 2000 season to repair a diseased tendon and pronounced himself fit in spring training. But his and the Cardinals' optimism proved to be premature.
McGwire had to go on the disabled list in April and he floundered most of the season. He first suggested retirement in early July in Milwaukee but then immediately tried to backtrack, saying that he hadn't specifically used the word "retirement."
But, later in the season, McGwire talked about his mind was "fried" and his body was "old," and, after the Cardinals' last playoff game, a 2-1 loss at Arizona a month ago, he again spoke of re-evaluating his future after the season.
McGwire's retirement comes amid reports that the massive slugger is wooing prized free agent Jason Giambi of Oakland as his possible replacement.With payroll concerns, the Cardinals could not possibly afford both McGwire and Giambi.
The word began to leak mid-week that McGwire was leaning toward retirement.
La Russa, who managed McGwire for all but one of his seasons in the major leagues, began to detail the slugger's concerns about his deterioriating body.
After capturing the nation's attention by setting the single-season home run record of 70 in 1998, McGwire hit 65 homers in 1999.
But as talk of catching Hank Aaron's hallowed career record of 755 began, injuries started to take their toll. Tendinitis in his right knee cost McGwire nearly half the 2000 season.
This season, the same injury limited him to just 97 games. He struck out 118 times and managed just 23 singles and four doubles. In the postseason, he was just 1-for-11 with a single and six strikeouts.
If he never plays again, McGwire will finish with a .263 average in a 15-year career. Of his 1,626 hits, 841 went for extra bases. His homer-to-at-bat ratio is the best of all time and his 1,414 RBI were fifth among active players. His slugging percentage (.588) is seventh all time.
McGwire always will be remembered for his titanic blasts that dotted highlight shows. Among the more memorable were an upper-deck blast at the Kingdome off Randy Johnson, a shot off Yankees closer Mariano Rivera into the black seats at Yankee Stadium and a game-winning homer in Game Three of the 1988 World Series.
But McGwire's most special homers came in 1998 as he closed in on Roger Maris' single-season record. With a national television audience tagging along, McGwire not only broke the record but shattered it.
He homered in the first four games in 1998, hit the longest homer in Busch Stadium history on May 16 and reached the upper deck at the Astrodome on June 18.
Then on Sept. 7, in one of the game's magical moments, McGwire lined a pitch from Mike Morgan inside the left-field pole for the record-tying homer.
The next night, McGwire made history with a line drive over the left-field wall off Steve Trachsel for the record-setter. The homer was so momentus that national broadcast networks cut into prime time programming to show the homer and the ensuing celebration, which took place with the Maris family on hand.
He would go on to hit 70 that season but the record stood just three years as Bonds hit 73 this season.
McGwire spent his first 12 seasons with Oakland and was part of a team that won three straight American League titles and the 1989 World Series. He was traded from Oakland in July 1997 and reunited with La Russa in St. Louis.
During his magical season, McGwire was subjected to criticism for his use of nutritional supplements.
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