Baseball: Persistent injury forces McGwire to take final bow

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The Independent Online

Mark McGwire, arguably the sport's most thrilling slugger of the last decade, has announced his retirement after two seasons plagued by bad knees, and after the loss of his single season home run record this year to San Francisco's Barry Bonds.

McGwire has dropped heavy hints that he might retire several times over the last 12 months, wondering aloud whether he was worth the massive sums his club, the St Louis Cardinals, were paying him. Those worries were borne out during the Cardinal's brief post season foray, when McGwire's unproductive hitting forced his manager to bench him. The St Louis fans and sportswriters too, previously slavishly adoring of McGwire, had begun to criticise him.

In a brief statement on Sunday night, the 38-year-old McGwire made it official, saying he was "unable to perform at a level equal to the salary the organisation would be paying me." Last summer he had agreed to a two-year $30m (£21m) contract extension with the Cardinals, but never signed it.

Nonetheless McGwire departs with a record that will earn him first ballot admission to baseball's Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Fifth on the all-time career list with 583 home runs, he held the single season homer record – the game's blue riband achievement – for three years until Bonds surpassed it last month.

Nothing will erase memories of that epic 1998 season, when McGwire's home run race with Sammy Sosa electrified the United States. When it was over, McGwire had racked up 70 homers, shattering Roger Maris's previous mark of 61, which had stood for 37 years. Sosa also smashed the record, with 66 homers of his own. Had he not lost so much time to injury he would have come closer to Babe Ruth's career mark of 714, and the current record of 755 held by Hank Aaron.

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