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Sunday, March 23, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Inside Pitch

Much Ado About Irabu Leaves Teams Lukewarm On Prospect

Alex the Great: Would you like to spend some time hanging out with Alex Rodriguez to see what he's like? Well, you probably can't. But you can do the next best thing - check out the profile, "Alex the Great," in today's Pacific magazine, written by Times reporter Florangela Davila and photographed by Rod Mar.

Rarely has so much attention been placed on a pitcher who has yet to throw his first major-league pitch. But the irony developing from the Hideki Irabu affair is that the players on the two teams tangling so intensely for his services don't seem to want him.

Let's start with San Diego, which has been awarded exclusive rights to the flame-throwing Japanese right-hander. Padre players privately refer to him as "Head-achy" Irabu. They have been turned off by Irabu's constant stream of anti-Padre comments.

"I'm a Padre, so when somebody says he doesn't want to play for us, and that he wants to play for the Yankees, I say, `Go ahead,' " Tony Gwynn said. "Honestly. I couldn't care less. Everybody talks about how he can throw 100 mph and he's the next (Hideo) Nomo, and the next this, the next that. Well, he might have eight years in the Japanese leagues, but he's got zero here. Until you you go out and do it, you can't say anything."

Surely then, the Yankees must be dying to get this potential ace onto their roster. Quite the opposite, excluding the owner. With all five projected Yankee starters having good and healthy springs -

Andy Pettitte, David Cone, David Wells, Dwight Gooden and Kenny Rogers - most feel they didn't need the disruption. Through midweek, the Yankee rotation had a 1.69 earned-run average and had limited the opposition to a .196 batting average.

"I am happy with who I have right now," Manager Joe Torre said. "I am not looking to improve on something which doesn't need improvement. The reason I say, `Don't mess with this,' is because I don't know this person. You can rely on people telling you, but you have to rely on your own eyes."

Both teams are wary of the inevitable influx of Japanese media flocking to their clubhouse to chronicle Irabu's every move.

The latest development is that Irabu is looking into playing in an independent league in the United States this season with the hopes Japanese officials might adjust their 10-year requirement for free agency.

"This thing is starting to seem like a comic opera," Padres owner John Moores said. "This guy six months ago said he'd play for $1 on any team in the United States. Now he's saying he'll sign only with the Yankees."

No Mesa vs. M's?

The Mariners' third series of the year will be against Cleveland at the Kingdome, April 7-9. Cleveland originally thought its outstanding reliever, Jose Mesa, would be back for those games, but now it looks like Mesa, immersed in legal troubles, will miss at least the first two weeks of the season - including the Seattle series.

Mesa is facing two separate trials - one on charges of rape and sexual imposition, the other on charges of carrying a concealed weapon. The first trial is scheduled to begin March 31. The second is set to begin immediately after the conclusion of the first.

During Mesa's absence, Cleveland will use a closer-by-committee approach, with Paul Shuey, Eric Plunk and ex-Mariner Mike Jackson sharing the duties. Cleveland has petitioned the American League for permission to replace Mesa on its Opening Day roster.

Nimble Gimbel

A bizarre story came out of Boston this week, detailing the influence on Red Sox General Manager Dan Duquette of Mike Gimbel, a 52-year-old employee of the Bureau of Water Supply for the City of New York.

It seems that Gimbel, a computer whiz and statistics expert, is on the Red Sox payroll and advises Duquette on all personnel moves. Duquette first learned of Gimbel in 1990, when he published a book of player ratings to fill the void left by the decision of stats guru Bill James to stop putting out his annual guide.

When Duquette became GM of the Expos, he hired Gimbel, then brought him to Boston. Gimbel's specialty is a formula he devised called Run Production Average (RPA) that he uses to rank players. It wasn't until he received Gimbel's stamp of approval that Duquette made deals acquiring Darren Bragg, Rudy Pemberton, Jeff Frye, Arquimedez Pozo, Mike Maddux and Troy O'Leary.

"He's a math wizard," Duquette said. "This is a hobby of his, a passion for him. He gives us a very thorough, complete part of the evaluation process. He's a very interesting guy, Mike Gimbel."

And very controversial. When the story of Gimbel was published in the Boston Globe, it caused a small furor in Boston, and in the Red Sox clubhouse, where it added to the prevailing image that Duquette is out of control. Gimbel let it slip that the Red Sox are trying to trade John Valentin (which Duquette had denied) and that he, Gimbel, was being relied upon heavily for advice on the right deal.

Duquette said there's nothing unusual about his reliance on Gimbel, pointing out that such legendary talent evaluators as Branch Rickey, Paul Richards and Earl Weaver all relied on mathematical formulas. But as the Globe pointed out, Rickey, Richards and Weaver all spent their entire lives in the game. Gimbel certifies pressure for the borough of Brooklyn.

North Side story

Hard to believe, but White Sox ticket sales for their June 16-18 interleague series with the Cubs aren't going well.

Or maybe not so hard to believe: The White Sox are requiring that fans buy four tickets - three for other games on the schedule - if they want one for a Cubs' game. In other words, if you want to buy a $15 ticket for a Sox-Cub game, it will cost you $60, and you get stuck with tickets to games you might not want to see.

About 20,000 tickets remain for what should be the hottest ticket in town. "We've still got a couple of months left. I don't think this is the time to start worrying about them," Sox marketing director Rob Gallas said.

Gaston picks Texas

Toronto Manager Cito Gaston, who has managed two World Series championship teams, gives Texas the edge over the Mariners in the American League West.

Last spring, Gaston correctly predicted the Rangers would win the division. He feels they weakened themselves by losing center fielder Darryl Hamilton and shortstop Kevin Elster to free agency, but says they still have enough to hold on.

"Seattle always seems to get off to a slow start," Gaston said. "It's more even, now that the Rangers don't have those two guys."

Around the horn

-- Oriole shortstop Mike Bordick continues to make a strong impression on the coaching staff. "Ever since he got here, he's everywhere you go," Manager Davey Johnson said. "Eight o'clock, he's in the batting cage. You go there (to a field), he's taking grounders. You go somewhere else, and he's doing something, throwing a ball or something. He's relentless. You know something? That's the Oriole way, taking a hundred ground balls. That was Brooks (Robinson), that was (Luis) Aparicio. That's what I'm used to."

-- The Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who won't start play until 1998, have agreed to terms with out-of-work outfielder Luis Polonia. The Rays assigned Polonia to the Mexico City Tigers, with whom they have a working agreement. Polonia, who has a .292 lifetime average in 10 seasons, could end up with an invitation to the Rays' first major-league training camp next spring if he plays well in Mexico City.

-- It's not often that Felipe Alou gets criticized, but John Wetteland said he decided not to sign with Montreal over the winter because Alou was not firm enough and the team lacked discipline. Wetteland said he noticed in a televised game that the Expos were allowed to wear their hats at different angles. Wetteland instead signed with Texas.

"I had to laugh when I heard Wetteland's comments," Alou said. "People have always found fault with the way this ballclub functions. They say the ballclub doesn't spend enough money on talent. They say the stadium in Montreal isn't good enough. . . . But that one was unusual. The reason most players don't want to come to us or want to stay with us is because of money."

-- The Angels are sweating out injuries to Chuck Finley (fractured right orbit bone), Troy Percival (back), Randy Velarde (forearm), Mark Gubicza (shoulder) and Chuck McElroy (arm).

"I wish someone would take the hex off this team," reliever Mike James said.

A little pine tar would help. Finley was injured when James lost control of his bat during batting practice and slammed it into Finley's face.

"I look like Rocky Balboa," Finley said. "The other day, I felt so bad for J.T. (Snow, who broke the lower left eye orbit when he was hit by a Randy Johnson pitch), and now I'm in the same boat."

-- One name to tuck away is Tiger pitcher Seth Greisinger. The 21-year-old Olympian, who signed too late to pitch in the minors last year - he was the sixth overall selection in the draft - was superb during spring training, allowing no runs and two hits in eight innings. But the Tigers decided he needs time in the minors and reluctantly sent him down.

"If we were contending for the division title, our thought process might be different," Detroit General Manager Randy Smith said. "But this guy has a chance to be special, and why run the risk of hurting him by starting him in the big leagues?"

-- That was quite a trade made earlier this spring between Texas and Toronto. Toronto sent outfielder Lonell Roberts to the Rangers for a player to be named. That player was named last week, and turned out to be - Lonell Roberts. It seems a condition of the deal was that Roberts would revert to the Blue Jays if the teams could not agree on a player. The Rangers wanted to keep Roberts but were willing to give up only a fringe prospect. Toronto wanted more.

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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