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Ken Caminiti Rejoins Astros

November 16, 1998

HOUSTON (AP) _ Ken Caminiti got his wish Sunday.

The free agent third baseman agreed to a two-year, $9.5 million contract with the Houston Astros just days after spurning a much richer offer with hopes of returning to the team that launched his career.

The two-time NL Central champion Astros, who traded Caminiti to the San Diego Padres four years ago, have an option for a third year at $5.5 million.

``To me, Ken is the ultimate gamer,″ Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker said. ``I can still remember him making diving stops in the divisional series (against Houston) when he could hardly run down the baseline.″

Caminiti blossomed offensively in 1996, winning the NL Most Valuable Player award, but has fought a variety of injuries the last two years. He hit 29 home runs for the Padres last season, but slumped to .252 with 82 RBIs while missing 21 games because of strained left quadriceps.

Caminiti, a switch-hitter expected to give the Astros some much-needed left-handed power, broke in with Houston in 1987 and was a fixture at third base for eight seasons.

He was part of a 12-player trade between the Astros and Padres in December 1994 that helped lay the groundwork for both clubs. After ousting the Astros in the first round of the playoffs, the Padres won the National League championship.

Caminiti attended Roger Clemens’ charity softball game Sunday at Rice Stadium in Houston, where his signing was announced to the crowd by Astros broadcaster Milo Hamilton.

``I’m an Astro. I’m an Astro,″ said Caminiti, obviously tickled about his new employer.

Caminiti rejected a reported $21.5 million offer from the Detroit Tigers, who signed Dean Palmer instead. Cleveland, both New York teams and the Chicago White Sox had expressed interest in Caminiti.

He made it clear early, however, he wanted to return to Houston because he still maintains his home in nearby Richmond.

``Baseball is a strange life on a family, and I think happiness is being with my family, my kids and my wife,″ Caminiti said.

Hunsicker was gratified Caminiti felt so strongly.

``One of the real problems of our game today is a lot of guys are out there to squeeze the last nickel out of the system,″ Hunsicker said. ``It’s created a lot of hardships for ballclubs and disrupted a lot of teams. I think this just underscores how special a person Caminiti is.″

Incentives in the deal are based on plate appearances. Hunsicker admitted that the Astros might have fizzled toward the end of last season because stars like Moises Alou, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio played virtually every day.

Caminiti, who himself limped through the postseason with San Diego, understands manager Larry Dierker will periodically sit him down, Hunsicker said.

``We’re going to take the bull by the horns and rest all of these guys,″ Hunsicker said. ``We talked about that with Ken. We don’t want a screaming match ever time Larry decides to take him out of the lineup.″

The deal is contingent on a physical, which Hunsicker said probably will take place Wednesday.

Hunsicker confirmed the deal probably ends Sean Berry’s career with the Astros. He split time with Bill Spiers, a career utilityman who Hunsicker said will be used to fill in around the infield.

Expenditures on Caminiti, a sweetened contract for Alou and pending arbitration cases could cloud the team’s pursuit of free agent pitching ace Randy Johnson, Hunsicker said.

``I’m not prepared to say what effect that’s going to have on Randy Johnson or other free agent pursuits right now,″ Hunsicker said, adding that owner Drayton McLane Jr. would make the final call.

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