ST. LOUIS (AP) - The St. Louis Cardinals have Mark McGwire for at least three more seasons, and they didn't have to tear up the team to keep him.
McGwire, who joined Babe Ruth last week as the only players with consecutive 50-homer seasons, signed a three-year, $28 million deal Tuesday.
The deal includes a $1 million signing bonus and a fourth season at McGwire's option that brings the total package to nearly $40 million.
One of McGwire's agents, Bob Cohen, said the slugger could have commanded at least another million per season on the free-agent market. Instead, he wanted to stay so much he not only signed for less, he agreed to defer about 25 percent of the money until he retires. The negotiating process took only a week or so and the deal was finalized late Monday night.
"We fully expect him to complete his wonderful career in St. Louis," said Bill DeWitt, head of the Cardinals' ownership group.
The deferred money and below-market salary will allow the Cardinals to attempt to re-sign pitchers Andy Benes and Todd Stottlemyre. Benes, who is 28-17 in two seasons with the Cardinals, has a player option on his deal. The team has an option on the contract of Stottlemyre, 26-20 in two seasons with the team.
"There's a lot of money being passed around, a lot of questions about how much guys are being paid and people looking for the last dollar," general manager Walt Jocketty said. "I can assure you that Mark McGwire did not do that. We're trying to structure it so we can keep everybody."
The Cardinals had a $44 million payroll without McGwire. They're counting on a healthy increase in season-ticket sales to help bridge the gap.
"We've got a pretty high payroll relative to baseball and relative to a marketplace this size," DeWitt said. "But this city can support it because it's such a great baseball town."
McGwire also is donating $1 million a year to establish a charitable foundation to benefit sexually and physically abused children. McGwire had trouble keeping his composure describing the foundation, pausing for a half-minute at one point.
Later, he said he has close friends who were physically and sexually abused.
"Let's just say children have a special place in my heart," McGwire said. "I just really believe a guy in my position can really help out."
The Cardinals acquired McGwire, 33, from Oakland on July 31, the trading deadline. On Friday, he said he thought he and the Cardinals were a perfect match, and that there was a good chance he'd be back.
McGwire thinks the Cardinals, injury-riddled and 69-80 heading into the final weeks, should be back in the postseason next year. The fans who show up at Busch Stadium two hours early to watch his tape-measure shots in batting practice also played a part in him staying.
"I tell you what, it makes me float every time I come to the ballpark, to play in this stadium and play in front of these fans," McGwire said. "I'm overwhelmed. I'm going to say that probably for the rest of my career."
It didn't hurt that McGwire is playing for his longtime Oakland manager, Tony La Russa. La Russa has an option for the next two seasons and it's all but certain he'll be back.
"I'm not speaking for him, but I don't think I would have signed if he wasn't coming back," McGwire said. Then he turned to La Russa and said, "All right?"
McGwire has 51 home runs, 17 with St. Louis, and needs one to tie his career best set last year. He entered the day one home run behind Seattle's Ken Griffey Jr. for the major-league lead.
Before he came to town, McGwire was said to prefer the West Coast because his 9-year-old son lives in southern California with his mother. Matthew McGwire gave the Cardinals a thumbs-up after a recent visit and had two words for his dad when the deal was announced: "all right!"
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