Benes gets his wish with a 'low-key' retirement

Friday, December 6, 2002

ST. LOUIS -- Andy Benes, whose 1.86 ERA during last season's second half for the Cardinals led National League starters, made his retirement official Thursday.

Benes, who's long hinted he would like to leave the game on his own terms, notified general manager Walt Jocketty during a roughly hour-long meeting, Cardinals spokesman Brian Bartow said.

"He told me he's moving on to his next career -- as assistant coach for his daughter's third-grade basketball team," Bartow joked.

Benes, whose scheduled meeting Wednesday with Jocketty was pushed back a day because of an area snowstorm, declined to publicly talk about the retirement.

"He just wanted to keep it low-key," Bartow said of Benes.

Later Thursday, Jocketty said: "We had a very pleasant meeting and discussed a lot of things." Jocketty declined to elaborate, saying only that "I'll leave it up to him to make any formal announcements" to the media.

"Basically, we talked about what his immediate plans are," Jocketty said, adding that Benes has been "a great citizen and great member of our organization."

Benes, who was a free agent, hinted last week he was leaning toward calling it a career, telling The Associated Press "my services aren't for sale anymore," and that "there's a real good chance I won't be playing."

Benes nearly retired in April, when he was saddled with a 10.80 ERA after three starts and burdened by an arthritic right knee. But Benes, a 6-foot-6 power pitcher throughout his career, returned three months later armed with a split-finger fastball that kept the hitters off balance.

Benes finished the season 5-4 with a 2.78 ERA, going 5-2 with a 1.86 ERA in 15 appearances after the All-Star break.

"Statistically, yeah, it was fun for me," Benes said last week. "The competition and being a different type of pitcher and kind of reintroducing fun to the game was good for me. But I still have that lingering thought of being told to go home, and that's not appealing to me, and I'm very thankful I had an opportunity to not have that be my final memory."

Benes said he looked forward to being around more for his children, ages 14, 9, 7 and 6.

The Cardinals, eliminated by San Francisco in a five-game NL championship series in October, declined a $6 million contract option on Benes on Oct. 31, though they said at the time they wanted to sign him at a lower salary. Benes technically gets a $1.5 million buyout; that money actually was part of his 2000 salary and will be paid over the next eight years.

After the Cardinals declined the contract option, Benes filed for free agency to keep his options open, but said he'd been leaning toward retirement since beginning his midseason comeback.

Benes, drafted by the San Diego Padres as the first overall pick in 1988, over his career was 155-139, with a 3.97 ERA in 2,505-plus innings. He struck out his 2,000th batter in his final start -- the last day of last season against Milwaukee.

His younger brother, Alan, pitches for the Chicago Cubs.

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