A tearful Hines Ward announces his retirement

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A tearful Hines Ward announces his retirement

From Comcast SportsNet
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Hines Ward believes he can still play football. The longtime Pittsburgh wide receiver known for his high-wattage smile and his bone-crunching blocks just couldn't stomach the thought of doing it in some strange uniform on some strange field with nary a Terrible Towel in sight. "I just wouldn't feel right," Ward said. So rather than play for a 15th season -- and his first outside the Steel City -- a tearful Ward opted to retire on Tuesday and secure a legacy unmatched in the franchise's long history. "I can say I'm a Steeler for life and that's the bottom line, that's all I've really ever wanted," Ward said. Ward holds every significant franchise receiving record, including receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. His 1,000 career catches rank eighth all time and he is one of two players with at least 1,000 receptions and two Super Bowl rings. The decision comes three weeks after the 36-year-old was released by the Steelers in a salary cap maneuver. Ward says he was contacted by several clubs but never had any formal discussions. He insists there are no hard feelings for his release, understanding that football is a business. As if to prove the point, Ward embraced Steelers owner Art Rooney II after stepping away from the podium following the announcement. "Thank you (Mr. Rooney) for giving a small town boy from Forest Park, Ga., a chance," Ward said. The former third-round pick out of Georgia was due to make 4 million next season, an expensive option for a player whose role diminished significantly in 2011 when he finished with 46 receptions, the fewest since his rookie season in 1998. He embraced his role as mentor to Pro Bowlers Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown even though he knew they were chewing into his playing time. "I know the wideouts are going to be in great hands," he said. "They're full of talent." And they're part of an offense that didn't exist when Ward made his debut 14 years ago. He spent most of his first three seasons blocking for running back Jerome Bettis, something he did better than any receiver in the league. Over time, the Steelers evolved from the grind-it-out attack that has been the club's identity for decades. Ward's breakout season came in 2001 when he set a franchise record with 94 receptions then obliterated that mark in 2002 when he finished with 112 catches. He made four straight Pro Bowls from 2001-2004 and seemed to get better as he aged. He was named the Most Valuable Player of the 2006 Super Bowl after catching five passes for 123 yards and a touchdown in Pittsburgh's 21-10 victory over Seattle, the franchise's first championship in 26 years. The Steelers added a second title in 2009 to give them six, more than any other team in the league. Ward hoped to get the Steelers their seventh Lombardi Trophy but didn't catch a pass in a 29-23 overtime loss to Denver in the wild card round of last year's playoffs. Only one pass came his way, a dart down the sideline by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during Pittsburgh's final drive in regulation. Denver cornerback Champ Bailey swatted the ball to the ground and Ward walked off the field and into the unknown. The former "Dancing With the Stars" champion could have a lucrative postseason career in front of a camera -- he worked the red carpet during the Oscars -- but he maintained after his release he could still contribute. He still does. "I feel like I have a few more good years in me left, Ward said. "I would love nothing more to get back to the Super Bowl." He wasn't willing to do it, however, outside Pittsburgh. "I want to go down as one of the greats to wear the black-and-gold and that's how it should end," Ward said. Ward laughed when asked if he could go into coaching one day, taking a jab at coach Mike Tomlin, who isn't sure how Ward's passion would play in the locker room. One of the most respected players in the league because of his contributions on and off the field, Ward leaves a void that will be difficult to fill. "On behalf of the NFL players, I want congratulate Hines on an extraordinary career," NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said. "I know he will continue to be a leader and example to our men." Ward's already started by urging Wallace to do what he can to remain with the Steelers. "I told Mike you may get a chance to go other places but there's not another place like Pittsburgh," Ward said. Certainly not for Ward. His No. 86 jersey has long been one of the team's top sellers, and his blue-collar attitude rang true to a fan base where hard work is a way of life. Ward understands the unique relationship the Steelers have with the city and to tarnish it by making a last-gasp attempt to pad his career stats didn't interest him. "I want my legacy here to say, you know what he was one hell of a football player who gave it his all," Ward said. "I'm truly blessed. I played in three Super Bowls, won two Super Bowls, was Super Bowl MVP ... what more could a player want out of his entire football career?"

MLB may make rule changes for '18 season

MLB may make rule changes for '18 season

PHOENIX - Major League Baseball intends to push forward with the process that could lead to possible rule changes involving the strike zone, installation of pitch clocks and limits on trips to the pitcher's mound. While baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed hope the ongoing process would lead to an agreement, he said clubs would reserve the right to act unilaterally, consistent with the rule-change provision of the sport's labor contract.

Union head Tony Clark said last weekend he did not foresee players agreeing to proposed changes for 2017. Under baseball's collective bargaining agreement, management can alter playing rules only with agreement from the union - unless it gives one year notice. With the one year of notice, management can make changes on its own.

"Unfortunately it now appears that there really won't be any meaningful change for the 2017 season due to a lack of cooperation from the MLBPA," Manfred said Tuesday during a news conference. "I've tried to be clear that our game is fundamentally sound, that it does not need to be fixed as some people have suggested, and I think last season was the kind of demonstration of the potential of our league to captivate the nation and of the game's unique place in American culture."

Yet, he also added: "I believe it's a mistake to stick our head in the sand and ignore the fact that our game has changed and continues to change."

Manfred said while he prefers an agreement, "I'm also not willing to walk away." He said he will send a letter to the union in the coming days and plans to continue dialogue with Clark and others in hopes of reaching agreement.

Clark met with Cactus League teams last week, five at a time over Thursday, Friday and Saturday, before departing Monday for Florida to visit each Grapefruit League club - and proposed rules changes were a topic.

"I have great respect for the labor relations process, and I have a pretty good track record for getting things done with the MLBPA," Manfred said. "I have to admit, however, that I am disappointed that we could not even get the MLBPA to agree to modest rule changes like limits on trips to the mound that have little effect on the competitive character of the game."

Clark saw talks differently.

"Unless your definition of `cooperation' is blanket approval, I don't agree that we've failed to cooperate with the commissioner's office on these issues," he wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "Two years ago we negotiated pace of play protocols that had an immediate and positive impact. Last year we took a step backward in some ways, and this offseason we've been in regular contact with MLB and with our members to get a better handle on why that happened. I would be surprised if those discussions with MLB don't continue, notwithstanding today's comments about implementation. As I've said, fundamental changes to the game are going to be an uphill battle, but the lines of communication should remain open."

Clark added "my understanding is that MLB wants to continue with the replay changes (2-minute limit) and the no-pitch intentional walks and the pace of game warning/fine adjustments."

Manfred said he didn't want to share specifics of his priorities for alterations.

"There's a variety of changes that can be undertaken," Manfred said. "I'm committed to the idea that we have a set of proposals out there and we continue to discuss those proposals in private."

MLB has studied whether to restore the lower edge of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level - at the top of the kneecap. Management would like to install 20-second pitch clocks in an attempt to speed the pace of play - they have been used at Triple-A and Double-A for the past two seasons.

Players also have been against limiting mound meetings. The least controversial change appears to be allowing a team to call for an intentional walk without the pitcher having to throw pitches. In addition, MLB likely can alter some video review rules without the union's agreement- such as shortening the time a manager has to call for a review.

"Most of this stuff that they were talking about I don't think it would have been a major adjustment for us," Royals manager Ned Yost said.

Manfred said starting runners on second base in extra innings sounds unlikely to be implemented in the majors. The change will be experimented with during the World Baseball Classic and perhaps at some short-season Class A leagues. Manfred said it was a special-purpose rule "beneficial in developmental leagues."

Manfred also said Tuesday that a renovated Wrigley Field would be a great choice to host an All-Star Game and Las Vegas could be a "viable market for us."

"I don't think that the presence of legalized gambling in Las Vegas should necessarily disqualify that market as a potential major league city," Manfred said.

Bulpett: Ainge 'really protective' of ability to go to free agency this summer

Bulpett: Ainge 'really protective' of ability to go to free agency this summer

Steve Bulpett joins Mike Felger to weigh in on the NBA trade deadline and the lack of moves made by Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics thus far.