BASEBALL 2009: Former All-Stars hang on to bigs
By HOWIE RUMBERG
AP Sports Writer
By HOWIE RUMBERG
By returning to Seattle for what will basically be a yearlong farewell to baseball, Ken Griffey Jr. is joining a long list of fading stars who hang on for a season or two despite their diminished skills.
Most famously, a 40-year-old Babe Ruth drew little interest in a brief stint with the Boston Braves rather than walk away as a New York Yankee, and Willie Mays hobbled home for almost two seasons with the Mets.
Here are several former All-Stars who are defying time and physics for another season in the big leagues:
After spending his entire 20-year career in Atlanta, Smoltz signed with Boston for $5.5 million when the Braves told the closer/starter they were going in a new direction. Smoltz, who will turn 42 in May, is the only pitcher in baseball history with 200 wins and 150 saves, but he had major shoulder surgery in 2008. The right-hander is targeting a June return to the mound.
Ten mostly disappointing years later, Hampton is back in Houston. He left as one of the top young pitchers in the game only to flop as one of the biggest free-agent busts in history and then struggled with injuries. The 36-year-old left-hander missed 2006 and '07 and went 3-4 with a 4.85 ERA in 13 starts for Atlanta last year. The Astros gave him a one-year, $2 million contract. The one-time 22-game winner has 141 career wins, but just eight in the past four seasons.
The 43-year-old left-hander is back for his 23rd season — after having surgery in August to repair a torn flexor tendon and clean up his shoulder. The Braves gave the active leader for wins (305) a $1 million, one-year contract that could be worth $3.5 million. Glavine went 2-4 in 13 starts for Atlanta last season before going on the disabled list for the first time in his career. He will begin the season on the DL but hopes to return by April 18 — the first game in which the Braves are projected to need a fifth starter.
After the Padres abruptly ended contract talks with the 41-year-old Hoffman in November, the career saves leader took his ominous "Hells Bells" bullpen entrance to Milwaukee for a $6 million, one-year deal. Hoffman has 554 saves — 552 with San Diego — in 16 seasons, but had just 30 last year, his worst output for a full season since he had 31 in 1995. He was put on the 15-day disabled list Monday after straining his right oblique muscle on March 13 and will miss opening day.
One homer shy of becoming the 25th player to hit 500, the cantankerous Sheffield was cut by the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday. The 40-year-old with 1,633 career RBIs signed with the New York Mets Friday. Plagued by injuries, Sheffield hit just .225 last season, his worst average for a full year in his 21-year career.
The Big Unit had back surgery in 2006 and '07 and was just 11-10 last year, but he still was determined to pitch for another season — and not just because he is five victories shy of 300. The World Series co-MVP in 2001 wants to help another team reach the playoffs. "I'd like to have people think that I made a difference, that I had an impact in some way," the 45-year-old lefty said. Johnson and the Diamondbacks couldn't reach an agreement so he signed with the Giants, who play 30 miles from his childhood home.