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Padres have tough task in persuading Japanese star

January 25, 1997

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ Star Japanese pitcher Hideki Irabu has made it clear: he prefers Yankee pinstripes to whatever the San Diego Padres have to offer.

``I have absolutely no desire to conclude a contract with San Diego,″ Irabu told reporters in Japan upon his return from a honeymoon overseas. ``My first pick is the Yankees. All I can say for now is that I have told this to my agent and that there has been no change in my wishes.″

Earlier this month, the Padres acquired what they believe are the exclusive negotiating rights to the 27-year-old right-hander from the Chiba Lotte Marines. Others in baseball, most notably New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, contend that Irabu should be a free agent able to negotiate with any major league team. Major league officials are studying the situation.

The Padres are aware that Irabu’s first choice is the Yankees, but aren’t backing down, club president Larry Lucchino said.

``I’m not surprised, and we’re fully prepared to advance the Padres’ interest no matter who from New York or elsewhere wants to take issue with us,″ Lucchino said in response to Irabu’s statement.

``We think that when we have a chance to speak with him, we’ll be able to adjust his perspective,″ Lucchino said. ``We know what a desirable place San Diego is and how desirable a team the Padres are, so we remain hopeful. Nobody ever said it was going to be easy.″

Lucchino was in Tokyo two weeks ago to announce a working agreement with the Chiba Lotte Marines, and he met with Irabu and his Los Angeles-based agent, Don Nomura. Lucchino has requested another meeting with Nomura but doesn’t know when it might occur.

``We’re available when they’re available,″ Lucchino said. ``Spring training starts on Feb. 14, and we hope it’s before then.″

While in Japan, Lucchino showed Irabu a ``welcome″ video that included greetings from owner John Moores, manager Bruce Bochy and star players Tony Gwynn, Ken Caminiti and Steve Finley.

Yoshiaki Kanai, secretary general of the Japanese baseball commissioner’s office, said that since San Diego has the sole rights to negotiate with Irabu, he can’t talk with any other major league teams.

``It’s for the Chiba Lotte Marines to decide,″ Kanai said.

And for major league officials to decide, as well.

On Jan. 14, the ruling executive council appointed a four-man committee to make recommendations on how dealings with Japanese players should be handled.

Randy Levine, head of the owners’ Player Relations Committee, sent a letter to the 28 teams Friday saying the four-man committee will interview club officials about their relationship with Japanese baseball.

Levine invited any interested team officials to come to New York and be heard. He also asked teams to provide him copies of any written agreements or summaries of oral agreements that may exist between U.S. teams and Japanese clubs.

Levine is joined on the committee by AL president Gene Budig, NL president Len Coleman and Bill Murray of the commissioner’s office.

Irabu’s rights are assignable, according to Lucchino, meaning the Padres could trade him if they don’t sign him.

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