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ORIOLES SOLD ON BELLE'S HISTORY OF PRODUCTION

In passing judgment on Albert Belle, Baltimore Orioles manager Ray Miller prefers to consider the slugger's lofty numbers rather than his dubious reputation.

"Who wouldn't want someone who had 50 homers and 150 RBIs playing in one of the biggest ballparks in the league? He's arguably the most prolific right-handed hitter in the game," Miller said.

Belle and the Orioles essentially reached an agreement Friday night on a contract that will bring the free agent outfielder to Baltimore. A formal announcement is expected within the next few days.

A team source said the sides reached an agreement on money, but other details had to be ironed out.

The contract, believed to be around $65 million over five years, would make Belle the highest-paid player in team history.

Miller, while noting that the deal was not yet official, said he liked the idea of having Belle's bat in the lineup. He also dismissed the possibility of the moody player having a negative impact in the clubhouse.

"I'm not worried about that. He's a very professional player who goes to the post every night," Miller said. "The only thing I know is that Frank Robinson was supposedly a problem in Cincinnati and when he came to Baltimore he immediately became a team leader."

Playing with the Chicago White Sox last season, Belle hit .328 with 49 home runs and 152 RBIs and led the AL in slugging percentage (.655).

In eight full seasons in the majors, he has a .296 average with 321 homers and 1,019 RBIs.

But he has been suspended six times and two years ago was ordered to undergo counseling after hitting a photographer with a baseball.

He speaks only occasionally to reporters and usually sits alone in the clubhouse.

"I'll wait and see how that goes," Miller said. "You can be a good leader without being vocal -- as long as you're productive."

Belle has 30 or more homers and 100 or more RBIs in seven straight seasons.

After helping Cleveland win the AL pennant in 1995, he became a free agent following the 1996 season and signed a $55 million, five-year contract with the White Sox.

But the deal had a special clause saying Belle could become a free agent again if his average salary dropped out of the top three in baseball.

Chicago, which still owed him $35 million over the next three seasons, refused his demand for a $4.25 million raise over three years and he hit the market.

Belle has until Wednesday to return to his deal with the White Sox.

Johnson to decide by Monday

NEW YORK -- Four teams remain in contention for Randy Johnson, who intends to decide by Monday where he'll pitch next season.

Johnson, perhaps the most intimidating pitcher in baseball, is dealing with the Anaheim Angels, Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Dodgers and Texas Rangers.

"We're still considering the four teams," Barry Meister, one of Johnson's agents, said. "We'll make a decision no later than Monday."

Johnson appears set to get a four-year deal with an average salary in excess of $12 million per season.

M. Donald Grant dies at 94

HOBE SOUND, Fla. -- M. Donald Grant, the former chairman of the New York Mets who traded away Tom Seaver in 1977 during a contract dispute, died Saturday at his home following a long illness. He was 94.

Under Joan Payson, the Mets' founding owner, Grant was chairman of the board from the team's inception in 1962 until he was forced out after the 1978 season.

Puerto Rico fetes Sosa

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- At a ceremony meant to honor him, Sammy Sosa instead made sure Roberto Clemente was not forgotten.

Sosa told Puerto Rican senators who feted him with a special meeting that a photograph he keeps of Clemente inspired him to his 61st and 62nd homers, and later numbers 64 and 65.

"I think I am the reincarnation of Roberto Clemente," Sosa said.

The tribute touched Clemente's widow, Vera. Her husband, a Hall of Famer who is perhaps the greatest player Puerto Rico has produced, died in a 1972 air crash on his way to deliver aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

"He's not just a good baseball player, but a great human being," Vera Clemente said of Sosa in a voice choked with emotion.

Clemente was the National League's Most Valuable Player in 1966. Sosa won this year.