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As man, Stewart will always be an A's ace


OAKLAND, Calif -- It was all wrong, of course. Dave Stewart's run as a first-class baseball player who was also a first-class man should have ended with a World Series strikeout or fierce glare. But when retirement came it came abruptly.

"The toughest thing was to be able to look my teammates in the eye," Stewart said yesterday after a news conference announcing his retirement. "When I couldn't do that, I knew it was time."

Stewart made his official announcement at the Coliseum, a day after word came out that he had decided to end his career now rather than wind it down with the first bullpen duty of his A's career. The A's announced on Thursday that Todd Van Poppel was taking Stewart's spot in the rotation.

"I shed tears today because, heck, I love baseball, bottom line," Stewart said, choking back the emotion and looking out at a gathering that included manager Tony La Russa, owners Wally Haas and Walter A. Haas, general manager Sandy Alderson, pitching coach Dave Duncan, infield coach Carney Lansford and Dennis Eckersley.

"I love it. And in my heart I'm probably not ready to leave the game, but I have a responsibility to Tony and Wally and Mr. Haas and Sandy, Carney and Eck and Dunc and the people sitting here in front of me."

Stewart returned to the A's this season after passing two years in Toronto and the return to the ballpark seven blocks away from where he grew up was a mixed success. He did not pitch well, which forced yesterday's move, but he renewed ties to the community he had done so much for, including after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, and with the people in baseball who matter most to him.

"Dave has an incredible level of passion for people and a deep-seated feeling for the community where he lives," Wally Haas said. "He had those values way before he won 20 games, and before he even came to Oakland."

Stewart, 38, started and ended his last season with the A's disastrously. He was rocked at SkyDome on Opening Day against his former teammates, giving up seven earned runs in 1 1/3 innings to the Blue Jays, and he was rocked in Milwaukee last Monday night, giving up eight runs in two innings.

It all ended with Stewart 3-7 with a 6.89 ERA, not the kind of numbers to sit well with a man who won 20 games four straight seasons starting in 1987. The only other Oakland A's pitcher to match that feat was Catfish Hunter.

"This is a low point for me," he said. "When you leave something you've been doing all your life, it really takes a lot of thought. Now I'm stepping into a totally different life. I talked to Davey Lopes a long time on the phone last night about LIFE.

"Baseball parallels life. A lot of things you experience in the game, you're going to experience in life. If you can deal with baseball, you can deal with life. Baseball's going to give you a lot of ups and downs. The main test of a man is how he deals with that."

Stewart can look back on his baseball career with satisfaction. He earned a reputation among his peers as a player's player, a guy who understands winning and competition the way a priest understands religion.

He shared what he had with others and he also won big games. He picked up two of the A's four wins in their 1989 World Series sweep of the Giants and also played in the All-Star Game that season.

"The way we came up, we had to be strong," said Rickey Henderson, who first met Stewart when he was less than 10 years old. "But then a lot of that comes from your parents. We were both raised by our mothers and that made us strong."

Stewart's mother was there, along with La Russa and the men who have shared his greatest moments in baseball. He could be back soon, as a coach or as something else, but it's not time yet for him to make decisions like that. He has the mind and the passion to manage or coach, but first he has to spend time saying goodbye to the game.

"I would like him to relax and enjoy it and do everything outside the game that he hasn't had all these years -- at least for a year or two," Henderson said.

Stewart will put off an announcement over what his future holds. He said yesterday he just doesn't know. But he does know how heavy the emotion will hang with him.

Said La Russa: "He is exactly what all of us want major-leaguers to be. Whether you're a fan, media, owners, front office, manager, coach, players, he's exactly what you want a major-leaguer to be, because he's the whole package.

"He's a guy who is going to reach into his pocket to finance the team party because he wants a lot of unity. Day he's not pitching, he's smiling in the clubhouse. He's the teammate who's gonna pick up the guy who's having a tough time. The day he pitches, the ultimate competitor."

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