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Players admit: A's face end of an era

Along with the end of the Canadian Curse came the end of another era _ the Oakland Athletics as we know them.

Fourteenof them will be free agents after the World Series _ a veritable collection of past and present all-stars: Mark McGwire, Ruben Sierra, Dave Stewart, Terry Steinbach, Mike Moore, Walt Weiss, Harold Baines, Carney Lansford, Rick Honeycutt

Some, like Lansford, will retire, some will not be asked back, some will go elsewhere for the right kind of money and some will wear the green and gold next spring.

But who knows who?

"It shouldn't be this bad, the hurt shouldn't be this bad, because we lost to a better club," said Stewart, who prolonged the American League playoffs with a Game 5 win. "But you look around this locker room and you know that the A's as we've known them are no more.

"I wasn't ready for this to happen at this time."

Neither was manager Tony La Russa, although he knew it would come to this. "I've never had a club play harder than this club has," he said after a post-game meeting in which he told his players he loved them and that they were his favorite team, even though it didn't go all the way.

"It was a very emotional ending," relief ace Dennis Eckersley said. "I don't know about some of the other guys, but I was pretty torn up about it."

La Russa said that during the season, "it was real easy to put aside thoughts (about the breakup of the team) because we were chasing a championship. But during this game, the way it went (Oakland falling behind so far so quickly), I found myself looking around and thinking about this club. You get to where you feel very affectionate to guys on your team.

"I know I'd like to go to the post with this club next year, but a bunch of the players are going to have decisions to make and _ I don't know. I hope we can afford to keep the club together."

McGwire, one of the players likely to command megabucks, said this season _ a .268 average with 42 home runs and 104 RBI _ was his most satisfying, even more so than his .289, 49, 118 RBI performance when he was the AL Rookie of the Year, because this season followed a disastrous 1991 when he batted just .201.

"I'd like to be able to say where I'm going to be next year, but I just don't know," he said. "That's something that will be decided a long time from now."

He looked around the quiet room. "This is going to be the last time some of these guys are going to be around. You talk to some guys after they've left and they say there's something special about the Oakland organization.

"I don't know what it is. They can't describe it. Maybe it's that we're allowed to wear whatever we want to on road trips. Things like that. I don't know where I'm going to be, and if you ask the other guys, they're not certain, either."