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Mac swats retirement talk

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CLEVELAND — Mark McGwire may be nearing the warning track of his career, but the St. Louis Cardinals slugger isn't going, going, gone just yet.

McGwire said that while he's disappointed he's slumping, he is not contemplating retirement at the end of this season as was reported in a front page story in Friday's St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

"I'm struggling," McGwire said before the Cardinals opened a three-game series with the Cleveland Indians. "The question was asked, 'Do I think about it (retirement)?' Well, when you're 37 years old and you've played as long as I have, you always think about it.

"Who doesn't think about it? . . . It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out I'm at the end of my career. It's going to happen one of these days."

McGwire snapped a career-long 0-for-29 slump with a single in his first at-bat in Friday night's 14-2 loss to the Indians. McGwire had struck out 14 times and was hitless in his last eight games before ripping a sharp single to center off Charles Nagy. He finished 1-for-2 with two walks.

McGwire said he's developed bad habits while trying to come back from off-season knee surgery.

McGwire, who came in batting .183 this season with just seven homers, was benched for Thursday's game in Milwaukee. In an interview beforehand, he told Cardinals beat writer Rick Hummel of the Post-Dispatch that he was "embarrassed" by his production and hoped to turn things around in the second half.

"I sure hope it's not the last half of my career," McGwire told Hummel.

Friday's Post ran a front page headline that said: "Frustrated McGwire Wonders if End is Near."

McGwire said he wasn't expecting a simple interview to turn into big news.

"Every word and every thing I do in the city of St. Louis is unfortunately huge news, and somebody decided to take it and make it headlines," McGwire said. "Unfortunately, it was taken very much out of context.

"There is a headline person who saw the word 'retirement' and decided to use that as a headline. Maybe there was nothing going on in St. Louis yesterday."

McGwire said he first realized the story had taken on a life of its own when he got a call from his girlfriend early Friday morning.

"She said, 'You're the talk of the town,' " McGwire said. "And I said, 'For what?' She read me the headlines, and it really blows me away how the article was turned around."

Brad Hainje, the Cardinals' assistant media relations director, said that by 10 a.m. his hotel voice mail was filled with dozens of questions about McGwire's future.

"I knew I better get to the park a couple hours early," said Hainje, who shared a cab to Jacobs Field with McGwire.

As McGwire was getting treatment on his knee before Friday's game, some of his teammates were having fun with news of his "retirement."

"Hey, Mark," yelled center fielder Jim Edmonds. "All the guys are pitching in and want to know if you want a Harley or golf clubs."

McGwire said that in studying tape from the past two years there is a "huge difference" in the way he hits. He said he's not pushing off his back leg properly and is unable to drive the ball like he's used to.

"I've developed some bad habits that I am praying and hoping I can get out of," he said. "During the course of my career, I never realized how important my legs are for hitting. I'm paying for it right now.

"I'm not who I am right now because of my surgery and my coming back from my knee problems. I didn't expect that this would happen, but it's another chapter I have to deal with in my career, and we'll see where it goes."

St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said he understands McGwire's frustration at not being able to produce his usual numbers or hit the ball 500 feet.

But La Russa also thinks McGwire can get himself straightened out.

"He is still the best bet we have for a lot of at-bats," La Russa said. "He would hurt us more by leaving than playing. I think he's still got a lot left."

McGwire captured the nation's imagination in 1998 while hitting 70 homers to break Roger Maris' 37-year-old record. He hit 65 homers the following year but only 32 a year ago when he played in just 89 games because of injuries.

But McGwire said he's more concerned about his next at-bat than talking about any of his accomplishments.

"Right now, that stuff is meaningless to me," said McGwire, who has 561 career homers. "What means something to me is what I'm doing today. I'm sorry. Some people like to live in the past. I've never been like that."

And when he does decide to retire?

"When and if that day happens," he said. "I don't care to ever have a press conference."