Cincinnati SS Barry Larkin wants to come back for his 20th season rather than retire, and hopes he can return with the Reds.

"I want to play next year," Larkin said before the Reds' game against the Pirates yesterday in Pittsburgh.

Larkin, 40, has played sparingly during the past month and can become a free agent after this season. His retirement was considered such a sure thing that the Reds scheduled a night in his honor. But during the season, Larkin asked the team to cancel the ceremony since he wasn't sure he wanted to retire.

His preference is to remain with the Reds, the organization that drafted him in the first round in 1985.

"They have the right of first refusal," he said.

Reds GM Dan O'Brien said he won't address any free agent issues until after the season.

* UMPIRE STABLE: Umpire Ed Montague was in good condition at a hospital after leaving yesterday's game in Arlington, Tex., between the Mariners and Rangers because of high blood pressure.

Rangers spokesman Gregg Elkin said Montague was taken to Arlington Memorial Hospital for observation. A hospital official, who asked that his name not be used, said late yesterday that Montague was treated and released.

-- From News Services