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Royals' Brett doesn't like the D.L., opts for D.H.

And now introducing the brand new full-time designated hitter for the Kansas City Royals: George Howard Brett. It's not that Brett no longer enjoys playing in the field. And it's not that new manager Hal McRae wants to exercise his authority.

It's a simple matter of time and circumstance dictating change. For 13 seasons, Brett, the only player ever to winning batting titles in three decades, played third base. He moved to first in 1987.

But this spring, after missing 26 games with a torn ligament in his right knee, Brett, 38, approached management and suggested the time was right for another career move.

"I've had five knee injuries," the defending American League batting champion said. "I want to play. I don't like being on the disabled list."

Brett is batting .248, but .306 since his removal from the DL May 24.

Close battle at first base

NEW YORK _ Oakland's Mark McGwire and Cecil Fielder of Detroit are separated by fewer than 20,000 votes for the starting first base job in the latest American League All-Star team balloting announced Monday.

McGwire, who has started the last three All-Star Games, has 236,005 to 217,406 for Fielder.

The other position leaders all remained in front. They are catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. of Cleveland, second baseman Roberto Alomar of Toronto, Baltimore shortstop Cal Ripken Jr., third baseman Wade Boggs of Boston and outfielders Ken Griffey Jr. of Seattle, and Rickey Henderson and Dave Henderson, both of Oakland.

Griffey leads all AL players in votes with 627,214.

National League leaders will be announced today.

Around the bases

Howard Spira, convicted last month of extorting $110,000 from George Steinbrenner, fired his lawyer Monday and announced he might have appeals specialist Alan Dershowitz on deck.

Dodgers pitcher Orel Hershiser, who had three hits while pitching a shutout in Game 2 of the 1988 World Series, is 5-for-6 as a hitter in his three starts this season. The 32-year-old right-hander, used by manager Tom Lasorda as a pinch-hitter in the past, is a career .198 hitter.

When Reds pitcher Jose Rijo picked off Philadelphia's Wally Backman in the first inning Monday, it was the 14th pickoff by the Reds' pitchers this season. Jack Armstrong and Norm Charlton each have three; Rijo has two successful pickoffs this season.

Cardinals starters have a 2.20 ERA in the last eight games, but St. Louis has scored 16 runs in that span to go 4-4.

Terrell Lowery, a baseball and basketball player at Loyola Marymount, signed with the Texas Rangers and will play minor league baseball this summer before returning to play basketball with the Lions next season.

_ Compiled from Associated Press reports.