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KRUK ENDS CAREER ON A HITTING NOTE

John Kruk left baseball not with a bang, but with a single.

Kruk, 34, retired from the Chicago White Sox on Sunday during a game against the Baltimore Orioles. The husky, bearded designated hitter got a single in the top of the first, was stranded at third and began clearing out his locker soon after that.Kruk was packing his gear as Frank Thomas hit for him in the third inning. He left the ballpark well before the conclusion of Chicago's 8-3 loss.

"The desire to compete at this level is gone. When that happens, it's time to go," Kruk said in a statement that was released after the game.

It was not a sudden decision; he made up his mind Friday and shared the news with his teammates Saturday.

"Yeah, he wanted to go out with a hit," Chicago manager Terry Bevington said. "If he wouldn't have gotten a hit today, he would have waited until he got a hit."

Kruk's rotund appearance was a running gag on Saturday Night Live, and Kruk's name made more than one appearance on David Letterman's Top 10 List. But he also carried a potent bat, as evidenced by his impressive career numbers.

In his 10-year career with San Diego, Philadelphia and Chicago, Kruk hit .300 with 100 homers and 592 RBI. Signed with the White Sox as a free agent May 12, he batted .308 with two homers and 23 RBI in 49 games.

Kruk was selected to play in three All-Star games, and will long be remembered for futilely flailing at three pitches from Randy Johnson in the 1993 contest in Baltimore. During the at-bat, he humorously acknowledged that he was overmatched by Johnson's speed and control.

But Kruk was 2-for-5 in two All-Star appearances and hit .348 in the 1993 World Series with Philadelphia.

"I want to thank San Diego for giving me my first opportunity to play professional baseball and Philadelphia for the chance to play in the World Series," Kruk said. "I thank the Chicago White Sox for the opportunity to come back and walk away from the game on my own terms."

Kruk's last home run was July 5, a grand slam against New York at Comiskey Park. His final hit was a line drive to left off Scott Erickson.

"He was really geared up. He was playing that first at-bat like it was the seventh game of the World Series," Bevington said.

Kruk eventually got hold of the ball, and it was almost certainly stuffed into the travel bag he took with him into retirement.

"He went out in style, his own way," Thomas said. "You've got to respect the man for that. We're going to miss him - he's a dangerous hitter, but there are a lot of hungry players out there."

Kruk missed the first six games of the 1994 season with Philadelphia after undergoing surgery for the removal of a cancerous testicle in March. Later that season, he was placed on the disabled list after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in May.

Kruk was battling aching knees all season, and that was a factor in his decision to retire.

"He was complaining every night about his knees. He can't hardly even walk," teammate Ozzie Guillen said. "He wasn't playing the game the way he wanted. He obviously has a lot of respect for the game and his fans.

"He wanted to give 100 percent, but he couldn't," Guillen added. "That's why he went home."

Bevington said, "He got to the point where he felt, healthwise, he was starting to break down. You saw him hobbling after he got the hit. He was just at the point where his leg just can't take it anymore."

"He was a hell of a player and a hell of a guy. He was not sure if he wanted to come back this year and I guess this shows that he's ready to retire. John probably doesn't feel he's playing up to his ability," Phillies manager Jim Fregosi said.