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La Russa Still Believes in McGwire

February 24, 2002

JUPITER, Fla. (AP) _ Even though Mark McGwire has retired, St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa still thinks about Big Mac and home runs.

``I told him more than once that if he rehabilitated during the offseason, he could hit 35 to 50 homers″ this year, La Russa said Sunday during St. Louis’ practice session. ``But he said, ’You don’t know what I’m feeling and what I’ve been through. I’m done.‴

McGwire, after hitting only .187 last season, passed up millions to keep playing because of his inability to produce in 2001.

La Russa said that because of rehabbing his right knee, McGwire wasn’t getting his back leg into the pitch. And he hit 29 homers in 300 at-bats anyway.

``Nobody realizes what Mark went through in 1999 and 2000,″ La Russa said. ``The daily responsibility to put on baseball’s best show, the doubleheaders he played ... and then the guys were pitching him like Babe Ruth, which he was, Babe Ruth Jr.

``For him to hit 135 home runs under those circumstances, he had to reach so deep, at some point the well was empty,″ La Russa said.

McGwire ended with 583 career home runs.

Notes: LHP Rick Ankiel threw batting practice Sunday for the third time this spring and once again did not exhibit any of the wildness that he displayed in the 2000 playoffs and early last season. He shared the mound with RHP Matt Morris, each pitching the equivalent of two innings. ... 2B Fernando Vina, who has missed camp because of personal reasons, is expected to report Monday.

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