Mark McGwire, who energized Major League Baseball with his home run-hitting derby, could have stayed with the St. Louis Cardinals for another year, picking up more millions even though injuries had made his playing sporadic. But McGwire, ever a classy guy, decided that an over-the-hill player's holding a spot on the Cardinals' roster wasn't in keeping with team spirit when a younger free agent could contribute more.
So he decided to retire. He could have announced the end of his career during the regular season when his ball club and the fans could have given him well-deserved recognition. Instead, he waited until Busch Stadium was quiet, when St. Louis was focused on their Rams and their Blues. He let San Francisco Giant Barry Bonds, the new home run champion, have his glory. And McGwire quietly hung up his bat.
Early in the 2000 baseball season, when McGwire looked to be on track for maintaining his 1998 record-setting pace, we wrote of the possibility that he might actually pass Hank Aaron's career home run record of 755. But we also noted that even if he should attain that mark, his true greatness will come if he can also match Aaron in dignity, humility and generosity of spirit.
Decent man: McGwire will never beat Aaron's record now -- though with 583 homers, he's still fifth on the all-time list -- yet he has demonstrated all the qualities that characterize a true human being.
McGwire never seemed to be a grandstander, solely pursuing personal triumph. In fact, in announcing his retirement he said, "For years I have said my motivation for playing wasn't for fame and fortune, but rather the love of competing. Baseball is a team sport and I have been lucky enough to contribute to the success of some great teams."
McGwire, now 38, started playing baseball when he was 12 years old. Twenty-six years is a long time. So perhaps people can understand, as he puts it, that his "mind and body are worn out."
He plans to take a couple of years off and then perhaps try coaching or sitting behind a desk. We have no doubt that he still has plenty to offer baseball, even if it's not on the field of play.