stoner steps

    There is one thing overshadowing Mark McGwire’s 583 home runs.

    It towers over his 6-foot-5, 250-pound frame. It renders his massive arms, corded with muscle, and his tree trunk-sized legs insignificant. It places him in a separate, elite category from the rest of the sporting world’s premier athletes.

    What, you ask, could reduce this titan — who is fifth on the career home run list and who hit 70 home runs in one season — into an ordinary joe?

    His humility.

    The man who captivated the nation in 1998 with his chase of Roger Maris’ single-season home run record retired Sunday. He walked away from a $30 million contract and the chance to become the fourth person in history to hit 600 home runs.

    So why would he pass up a chance to add to his enormous legacy? Why is he retiring at 38 — the same age at which Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs?

    I’ll tell you why: It’s because of who he is. The big man has an even bigger heart, and despite what some may say, I truly believe he is ending his 16-year career for all the right reasons.

    First of all, he’s definitely on the downside of his career, as he will readily admit. Last year he hit .187 with 29 home runs and played in less than 100 games. He has chronic knee and back injuries that have kept him on and off the disabled list for the past two years.

    In a press release, McGwire stated, “”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. 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.””

    Honestly, how much class does that take — to recognize that you can no longer dominate a game you once found so easy? To be able to turn aside personal glory for the sake of the team and the fans? There are very few athletes in any league who would be able to make the decision that McGwire did.

    Who can blame McGwire for walking away from the game with his head held high? He adamantly said that he does not want to be one of those athletes who hangs around longer than he should; those once-heroes that just slowly and painfully fade away while refusing to recognize their good years are behind them.

    Babe Ruth is a perfect example. After the Yankees decided Ruth’s career was done, he went to the Boston Braves and played terribly, often getting booed by the Boston fans before he finally retired midway through the season. I don’t blame McGwire one bit for retiring.

    But there are people out there who feel that McGwire shouldn’t retire — that he should keep playing and chase that elusive 600 home-run mark.

    To these ignorant fans: That attitude reflects the sad state that sports is in today. Athletes today chase numbers and individual statistics — most often in direct detriment to their teams. How many batters have tried to hit a home run on a 3-0 pitch and popped out when their team needed baserunners? You fans are the type who propagate this mentality.

    Sure, McGwire could probably hobble through another year, maybe even two. He could certainly hit 17 more home runs. Yet he would be a liability to his team the whole time. He can barely run at all, he is limited defensively as a first baseman and he has been easily neutralized the past two years with a simple free pass to first base.

    Or he could do the noble thing and step aside, opening up $30 million for the Cardinals to spend in the free-agent market and help the team and community he deeply cares about to make it further into the postseason next year.

    Let this great man follow his morals and step aside. Instead of greedily complaining about what he hasn’t done, envelop yourself in what he has achieved for the game of baseball, for his team and for himself; always in that order and always the way it should be.

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