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Archive for Saturday, April 17, 2004

McGwire back at Busch for first time since retiring

April 17, 2004

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— This is the third season without Mark McGwire for the St. Louis Cardinals, and they still miss his larger-than-life presence.

The former home run king will make his first appearance at Busch Stadium today since his retirement after the 2001 season, and a near-sellout crowd is expected for the occasion. His old teammates are eager to see him throw out the first pitch, too.

"He was the modern-day Babe Ruth," center fielder Jim Edmonds said. "That's the way people perceived him.

"Mark was the last giant of the sport, and to play in this town, he was twice as big. It seems like this town is ready to embrace a hero, and he was that guy."

The Cardinals acquired McGwire from the Oakland Athletics in 1997. The next year he broke Roger Maris' 37-year-old record with 70 homers. McGwire's finishing kick, hitting five homers on the final weekend, still stands out in manager Tony La Russa's mind, even though Barry Bonds broke McGwire's record with 73 homers in 2001.

"I would rank it first with whatever sports clutch performance you want to talk about," La Russa said. "That's as clutch as anything any athlete has ever done -- and this guy's tank was real, real light."

McGwire's tape-measure home runs drew raves, even in batting practice, during his time in St. Louis. He never was comfortable with the publicity and he's kept a low profile since retiring, although he married a woman from nearby Glen Carbon, Ill.

McGwire even ducked the media at the funeral for Jack Buck in 2002, entering and leaving the church from a side door.

"I wouldn't say he wasn't ready, but he wasn't used to it," Edmonds said.

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