ST. LOUIS (AP) _ Having smashed Roger Maris' 37-year-old single-season home run record, Mark McGwire mused in the spring of 1999 about his chances of catching Hank Aaron's career record.
But the dream of breaking two of baseball's more famous records won't become a reality for McGwire, who announced his retirement Sunday night. He ended up 172 home runs short of Aaron's magical 755.
Injuries led to a rapid descent for the former home run king, who was an expensive part on St. Louis Cardinals playoff teams the last two seasons. He strongly hinted of retiring several times this season, saying at one point he was ``fried and embarrassed'' by his lack of production.
The 38-year-old McGwire batted .187 with 29 homers in his final season as he struggled to recover from a knee injury that also cost him half of 2000. He walks away from a $30 million, two-year contract extension that he agreed to in spring training but never signed.
``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,'' McGwire said in a statement.
The timing of the announcement took the Cardinals by surprise.
Manager Tony La Russa and McGwire talked often since the end of the season and La Russa said last month that he expected McGwire to retire. But the slugger hadn't told him or general manager Walt Jocketty about the decision.
``I would believe he would have told the Cardinals first,'' La Russa said Sunday. ``The guy is a first-class guy. I find it hard to believe he wouldn't call the owners or Walt first.
``But he's given everybody enough warning.''
By announcing his retirement before the free agent season begins instead of closer to opening day, McGwire allows the Cardinals to pursue a replacement. Jason Giambi, McGwire's teammate in Oakland, will likely be targeted by the Cardinals.
After 11 productive and often eye-popping seasons with the Oakland Athletics, including a rookie-record 49 homers in 1987, McGwire became a national phenomenon a year after the Cardinals acquired him in 1997.
And though his record 70 homers stood for only three years before Barry Bonds hit 73 this year, McGwire alone turned an 83-79 team into one of baseball's best draws in '98 when he and Chicago Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa shattered Maris' mark.
McGwire's record chase was briefly tainted by his involvement with androstenedione, a testosterone raising supplement. Sales of andro soared for a time, but he quietly announced in '99 that he had stopped using it.
With 583 career home runs, McGwire is fifth on the career list and only three behind Frank Robinson, but also only 16 ahead of Bonds. He's the most prolific home run hitter in major league history, connecting every 10.6 at-bats versus once every 11.8 at-bats for second-place Babe Ruth.
McGwire, who began his career with Oakland in 1986, won the World Series with the A's in 1989 and reached the postseason six times. He was a 12-time All-Star and won a Gold Glove in 1990.
``For years I have said my motivation for playing wasn't for fame and fortune, but rather the love of competing,'' McGwire said. ``Baseball is a team sport and I have been lucky enough to contribute to the success of some great teams.''
Last season also was the last for Baltimore's Cal Ripken, who played in the most consecutive baseball games, and San Diego's Tony Gwynn, who is 17th for career hits.