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BELLE SHOULD ANSWER ORIOLES' NEED FOR RIGHT-HANDED POWER

Albert Belle arrived in Baltimore today wielding a pen instead of his potent bat, becoming the highest-paid player in the history of the Orioles.

Belle finally agreed to a $65 million, five-year contract Monday night and signed on with the Orioles before being introduced this afternoon during a news conference at Camden Yards.

Belle said Baltimore was always his favorite team when he was growing up and Eddie Murray, now a coach for the team, was one of his heroes.

"I finally get an opportunity to come here," he said. "I'm looking forward to working with these guys. They definitely want to go all out to win. This club is definitely a contender."

Orioles general manager Frank Wren called Belle "one of the outstanding hitters" in baseball.

"We're just thrilled to have him," Wren said.

Before checking into Baltimore, however, Belle checked out all his options.

Wren settled Friday with Belle's agent, Arn Tellem, on the financial terms of the deal. But while the sides worked to solidify other issues, Belle did some probing on his own.

According to a source who was in contact with several major league teams, Belle personally placed telephone calls Monday to Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and Chicago White Sox general manager Ron Schueler, asking if they were interested in him.

New York withdrew its offer last week after Bernie Williams re-signed for $87.5 million over seven years.

Belle had until Wednesday to return to the White Sox and complete a $55 million, five-year deal that guaranteed him $35 million in the next three seasons, but Chicago refused to increase Belle's salary.

So Belle chose the Orioles, who were lagging behind the other AL contenders in the free-agent sweepstakes and felt compelled to overlook Belle's checkered past by offering him one of the most lucrative contracts in baseball history.

The contract ties Belle with Mike Piazza of the New York Mets for the third-highest average salary ($13 million) behind only Anaheim's Mo Vaughn ($13.33 million) and Arizona's Randy Johnson ($13.1 million).

It took until Monday for an agreement on the final detail, the extent of the no-trade clause in the contract.

Belle's deal is the sixth highest in total dollars, trailing only Piazza ($91 million), Williams, Vaughn ($80 million), Boston's Pedro Martinez ($75 million) and the Los Angeles Dodgers' Gary Sheffield ($68.5 million).

Belle became available because his contract with the White Sox included a clause that allowed him to ask for a raise or become a free agent if his average salary didn't remain among the top three in baseball. Belle was knocked out of the top three when Sheffield received an additional $7.5 million for agreeing to waive his no-trade clause and go from Florida to the Los Angeles Dodgers last spring.

Belle's deal with the Orioles does not include a similar reopener clause, one source said.

White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said Sunday he spoke with Belle three times last Wednesday, but refused to change his stance against a raise. Reinsdorf didn't speak with Belle on Monday, but wouldn't say if Schueler did.

Belle hit .328 this year with 49 homers and 152 RBIs. He led the AL in slugging percentage (.655) and total bases (399), and set club records for homers, doubles (48), total bases and extra-base hits (99). He was second in doubles, homers and RBIs.

Two Bisons chosen as all-stars

Outfielder Alex Ramirez and shortstop Jolbert Cabrera of the Buffalo Bisons were named to the Topps/NAPBL (National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues) Triple-A All-Star Team for 1998.

Ramirez, who set modern franchise records of 34 home runs and 103 runs batted in, hit .299 and was selected Most Valuable Player for the International League champions. He also was named to the IL All-Star Team and was voted the Lou Boudreau Award as the top minor league positional player in the Cleveland Indians organization.

Cabrera batted .318 with 10 home runs, 45 RBIs and 25 stolen bases. He was a starter in the Triple-A All-Star Game in Norfolk, Va., and was named to the IL postseason All-Star Team. Besides leading the Herd in stolen bases, Cabrera also paced the team with 48 multihit games, 157 hits, 24 doubles, 68 walks and 129 games played. He reached base in 116 of the 125 games he started.

Around the horn

-- Major league baseball, worried about uncertainty in the Florida Marlins franchise, has taken the 2000 All-Star Game away from Miami and announced it will be played on Atlanta's Turner Field.

-- Joe DiMaggio had another "serious setback" in his slow recovery from lung cancer surgery -- an infection that doctors believed was under control Monday after a weekend of intensive treatment.

-- Paul Molitor, 42, says he'll decide by the end of the week whether to retire or sign on with Toronto Blue Jays.

-- Texas re-signed shortstop Royce Clayton, who agreed to an $18 million, four-year contract.

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