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Baseball briefs

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 30, 2000

Gooden: It's Yanks or nobody

NEW YORK -- From his couch in May, with a television remote control in his right hand instead of a baseball, Dwight Gooden couldn't foresee packing away boxes of T-shirts that read "World Champions" across the front a few months later.

But that's just what Gooden was doing Saturday in the clubhouse at Yankee Stadium.

Now he can't foresee playing baseball for any other team. In between stowing his gear for the winter, the free agent told New York's Daily News he either will re-sign with the Yankees or retire.

"This is the only place I would play," he said. "If not here, then I wouldn't play. I'd just pack it in, call it a career.

"Once I signed back here (a minor-league deal on June 11 after being released by the Devil Rays), I decided I'd be here or nowhere."

Gooden, 35, was 4-2 with a 3.36 ERA in 18 games with the Yankees, his third team of the season. He started with the Astros and was released by the Rays in late May and thought for a few weeks that his career was over.

But the Yankees, needing a starter for one of the games of a doubleheader against the Mets, signed him in the hopes he would recapture some old New York magic.

On July 8, he made his first appearance against his old team, earning a victory by allowing two runs in five innings. From there, he was a fixture on the Yankees staff, starting four more games as a fill-in and also pitching out of the bullpen.

Gooden did not pitch in the World Series, but he was in two post-season games and will collect some championship jewelry.

"This would be an ideal note to go out on, with the way the year started and then to come out of it with a ring," Gooden said. "But then the joy that you get from this kind of thing makes it tough to walk away."

Gooden says he hasn't had any discussions with team officials about the future, but they know he wants to remain a Yankee from what he told them when he first signed.

"Once everything settles down in a week or so, I'll be talking to them," Gooden said.

COUNTERFEITERS CAUGHT: Investigators seized 7,000 counterfeit World Series shirts worth more than $100,000 and shut down a factory that police said produced the knockoff merchandise.

Three men were arrested in the raid, which also netted about $500,000 worth of equipment used to produce fraudulent garments, said Joseph Dunne, first deputy police commissioner.

Many of the shirts, bearing the Yankees' world champions logo, were meant to be sold today at a parade for the team, he said.

"It looks at first glance like the real thing, but it's not," Dunne said. "This is knockoff stuff, it's inferior quality, it's not the real deal."

Castro, Chavez engage in political hardball

BARQUISIMETO, Venezuela -- In a diamond showdown between heads of state, the veteran from Havana worked a walk off the kid from Venezuela.

Cuban leader Fidel Castro, in sneakers, a blue batting helmet and his usual military fatigues, took time off from a national tour that included the signing of a big oil-export contract to step in and bat against his host, President Hugo Chavez.

Chavez started at first base and went 0-for-3 as Cuba scored a 17-6 exhibition victory over the home team. Afterward, the 46-year-old left-hander insisted on pitching to the 74-year-old Castro, a pretty good pitcher in his day.

Castro took a couple of practice swings with an aluminum bat, then stood in as Chavez's first pitch bounced near the plate. Ball one.

Castro swung and missed Chavez's second toss, then tried to bunt. Soon he faced a full count.

Chavez stared down his opponent before unleashing his final pitch: dead center, called strike three by the umpire.

Not for Castro. Declaring the pitch a ball, he walked, bat in hand, to first base. Nobody argued.

"Hugo is a good pitcher, but today wasn't his day," Castro joked. "He couldn't do it against an old man who's almost twice his age."

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