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Yes, Boston, old 34 is back

He'll slip the jersey on early Monday morning and toddle on to the field.

Don Zimmer's return to baseball will be complete.

Fired as manager of the Chicago Cubs in May, the Treasure Island resident spent a full summer out of uniform for the first time in more than 40 years.

He golfed. He relaxed. He took a midsummer trip to New Hampshire. "I would say the most important thing was watching my grand kids play Little League baseball and basketball," Zimmer said. "I was running somewhere every night watching them play. It was something I never got to see my own son do."

Zimmer's vacation ends Monday, when he steps onto the field wearing his old No. 34 for the Boston Red Sox.

It's a familiar hue, and there may be a familiar cry.

Zimmer managed the Red Sox to 411 victories in 4{ seasons (1976-80) but never won a championship. His teams were among the best to never win a division title.

The Red Sox won 97 games in 1977 and finished second, 99 in 1978 and lost the AL East title in a one-game playoff with the Yankees, and 91 in 1979 and finished third. Zimmer was fired at the end of the 1980 season.

He was not, shall we say, a fan favorite. The relationship deteriorated continuously, sparked no doubt by the nightly abuse Zimmer took on the radio call-in shows. The Boston media and fans apparently have long memories.

When new Red Sox manager Butch Hobson hired Zimmer, his old skipper, last fall to coach third base, a Boston newspaper responded with the headline: "He's baaack!"

Zimmer said he has no regret about returning to the scene.

"I love the idea. Some people say, "How can you go back to Boston?' I love Boston," Zimmer said.

"If I wasn't looking forward to it, I wouldn't be going. I'm not going because I have to have a uniform on. I'm going because I want to go."

Gonzo: A .254 average, 13 homers and 69 RBI make for a pretty good rookie season, but Tampa's Luis Gonzalez wants more in his second season in the Astros' outfield. He went through a rigorous off-season training program designed to increase his strength and durability, and he is happy the Astrodome fences are being moved in. "It's a good feeling going in as the starting leftfielder," Gonzalez said, "but I still have to go out and play hard. "

Blazing Brien: The Yankees got a quick glimpse of their future Friday when 20-year-old wunderkind Brien Taylor worked out with the club. Taylor, the $1.5-million bonus baby from last June's draft, left some good impressions. "Greg Cadaret played catch with him today and said that's the last time he wanted to do it," said pitching coach Mark Connor. "He was throwing too hard. I had to tell him to back off."

Still waiting: Former Mets manager Davey Johnson, out of work since May 1990, is desperate to get back in the game but is being pretty selective about it. "I would probably coach if the right situation came along, but I would be wasting my talent. I think I should be managing," Johnson said. "I would take any (major league) team even the Cleveland Indians. Managing a single-A or double-A team wouldn't interest me. Managing a big-league club would."

Family reunion: When the Orioles move their spring camp to St. Petersburg next month, catcher Rick Dempsey will be able to keep a close eye on his son, John, a catcher in the Cardinals' minor-league system. "We are thinking of rooming together," said Rick Dempsey, "but I think he just wants to get into my meal money."

Speed racer: Oakland's Jose Canseco is planning to sell his two Porsches, including the one involved in his recent flap with his wife. But he's not exactly taking the slow road. The A's slugger said he recently purchased a $225,000 1991 Lamborghini Diablo, which can reach 190 mph. "I'm selling my Porsches because I've got too many cars," Canseco said. "I pay my insurance man enough as it is. I'm sure my teammates will have fun with what I've been through lately. Maybe they'll have a couple of crashed cars set up at camp."

He said it: Indians manager Mike Hargrove, on the decision to move in the Cleveland Stadium fences by up to 30 feet: "We'll be able to tell what color the fences are without getting out binoculars."

Miscellany: Cincinnati's Greg Swindell, on what it was like to pitch for the Indians: "Nerve-racking." The Yankees will play Danny Tartabull in leftfield, at least until they trade Jesse Barfield. Boston reserve outfielder Tom Brunansky could be headed to California and a reunion with former Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog. Canseco did not make Oakland management happy when he declined its invitation to report early to camp. The Minnesota Twins have joined Hennepin County's firearm buyback program, allowing people to receive game tickets if they turn in handguns. Free agent-to-be Ryne Sandberg has given the Cubs until March 1 to sign him to a new contract.

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