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12-time All-Star retires; has back, vision problems

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Roberto Alomar retired Saturday,
ending a career in which he became one of baseball's best second
basemen and, for a time, its most scorned player.

The 12-time All-Star called it quits with Tampa Bay, finishing
just 276 hits shy of 3,000. He led Toronto to consecutive World
Series titles in 1992-93 and was considered by many a lock for the
Hall of Fame until a swift decline the last three seasons as he
drifted from team to team.

Alomar's legacy was tarnished, however, when he spit in the face
of umpire John Hirschbeck in 1996 while with Baltimore. The messy
confrontation made front-page news all over the country and turned
Alomar into a target for angry fans throughout the majors.

He made matters worse afterward by saying he thought Hirschbeck
was under stress because his 8-year-old son, John Drew, had died of
a rare brain disease three years earlier, prompting the umpire to
charge into the Orioles' clubhouse looking for Alomar.

Yet soon, the two became friends, and even worked together to
raise money to fight that brain disease. And now Alomar deeply
regrets losing his temper during a heated argument over balls and
strikes.

"I wish it never happened," he said, "and I hope that's not
how people remember me."

Alomar's announcement came one day after he committed two errors
in one inning of a spring training game with the Devil Rays, who
signed him to a $600,000, one-year contract in January.

Tampa Bay was attractive to Alomar because he wanted another
chance to play every day, but the 37-year-old switch-hitter has
been bothered by back and vision problems in recent weeks.

"I played a lot of games and I said I would never embarrass
myself on the field," Alomar said. "I had a long career, but I
can't play at the level I want to play, so it's time to retire."

He said he had doubts even entering camp.

"I just can't go anymore," Alomar said. "My back, legs and
eyes aren't the same."

Alomar also played for San Diego, Cleveland, the New York Mets,
Arizona, and the Chicago White Sox during 17 seasons in the major
leagues. In his prime, he was one of the best all-around players in
the game, blessed with speed, smarts and extra-base power.

He became the biggest star in a famous baseball family. Alomar's
older brother, Sandy Jr., is a catcher with Texas who is entering
his 18th major league season. They were teammates in San Diego,
Cleveland and Chicago. Their father, Sandy, spent 15 seasons in the
big leagues and is now a coach with the Mets.

A 10-time Gold Glove winner and career .300 hitter, Roberto
Alomar was an All-Star for 11 consecutive seasons from 1991-2001,
but struggled while batting .266, .258 and .263 the past three
years.

In 2004, he missed two months with a broken right hand and
finished with four homers and 24 RBI in 56 games for the
Diamondbacks and White Sox.

Tampa Bay general manager Chuck LaMar said there will always be
a place in the organization for Alomar, even though he never played
a regular-season game with the team.

"We wanted to give him a chance," LaMar said. "For 17 years
he has been one of the greatest, if not the greatest, second
basemen ever to play the game. We would be honored to keep him with
the team in some capacity."

With Alomar leaving, Jorge Cantu figures to take over at second
base. He hit .301 in 50 games for Tampa Bay last season, his first
in the majors.

"I learned a lot from him and I have all the respect in the
world for him," Cantu said. "I watched him when I was a kid and
looked up to him all through the minor leagues. You have to respect
what he's done."

Also Saturday, Tampa Bay outfielder Danny Bautista retired.
Bautista batted .286 with 11 homers and 65 RBI last season with
Arizona.

Bautista was in the major leagues for parts of 12 seasons with
Detroit, Atlanta, Florida and the Diamondbacks. He hit .272 in 895
career games, and went 7-for-12 to help Arizona beat the New York
Yankees in the 2001 World Series.

"I wasn't caught totally off-guard," LaMar said. "Danny had
been struggling the last five days, so we have had a feeling
something might happen, but this was kind of surprising. I just
think that he's a class act."

The Devil Rays signed speedy outfielder Alex Sanchez, released
by Detroit on Tuesday. Sanchez hit .322 with 19 stolen bases in 79
games for the Tigers last season.