EARLY RETIREMENT?:

Don Mattingly is confident he will return to his former greatness, but the injured New York Yankee first baseman dropped a bombshell yesterday when he told the New York Daily News that he would readily retire if his back pain persisted.

"I'd think about {retiring} hard. It depends on what {the doctors} tell me," Mattingly said. "But if I can't be myself and be productive, then I won't keep playing. I would walk away from it."

Although he insisted "I'll be fine. I'm not done," Mattingly admitted the bulging degenerative disk in his back, which landed him on the 21-day disabled list, is still bothering him. He has been relaxing with his family since owner George Steinbrenner insisted he head home Thursday, but the back is still limiting his movement. He is not in excruciating pain, but he's not feeling normal.

Mattingly's next move will be a return to New York Wednesday. He is currently arranging a trip to Los Angeles, where he will be examined by noted back specialist Robert Watkins. Watkins, who examined Mattingly and prescribed a series of exercises for the first baseman, also performed the successful back surgery on Dave Winfield before the 1989 season.

MOVES:

OF Ozzie Canseco, the twin brother of Jose, was optioned to Class AA Huntsville of the Southern League by the Athletics, who called up RHP Joe Bitker from AAA Tacoma. Canseco batted just .105 with Oakland, striking out 10 times in 19 at-bats. Bitker, 26, leads the Pacific Coast League with 21 saves. . . . The Pirates promoted C Dann Bilardello from AAA Buffalo and returned OF Moises Alou to the American Association team. Bilardello was called up for the third time this season because C Don Slaught is expected to miss three or four games with a dislocated ring finger on his left hand.