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O'Neill signs four-year deal with Yankees

American League batting champion Paul O'Neill, who could have filed for free agency, re-signed with the Yankees Friday for $19-million over the next four seasons.

The outfielder is coming off the best year of his career. He hit .359 with 21 homers and 83 RBI in 103 games.

O'Neill, the first Yankee to win the batting title since Don Mattingly hit .343 in 1984, had the highest average on the team since Mickey Mantle hit .365 in 1957.

"Being left-handed and a fine outfielder, it's great to have Paul here for four more years," Yankees general manager Gene Michael said. "He's become an integral part of the Yankees."

O'Neill was fifth in the AL's Most Valuable Player voting. His .603 slugging average was fourth in the league, his .460 on-base percentage was second and his 72 walks tied for fourth.

O'Neill made $3.5-million in 1994, the last season of a three-year deal worth $10.5-million.

In another move, catcher Mike Stanley, whose $562,500 option has been exercised by the club, attempted to file for free agency. Stanley's agent, Jim Bronner, contends the Yankees exercised the option too early, before the time span called for in the contract.

The deal was tied to the World Series, which wasn't played. Management's player relations committee said it will reject Stanley's filing.

New league forming

Organizers of the new United League called a news conference for Tuesday in New York.

Agent Dick Moss, the former general counsel of the Major League Baseball Players Association, has been organizing the league as an alternative to the existing major leagues.

It would be the first challenger to the AL and NL since the Federal League, which existed for two seasons from 1914-15. The league is expected to include teams outside the United States.

Elsewhere

Indians: Cleveland exercised its $1.8-million option to keep right-hander Charles Nagy. Nagy was 10-8 with a 3.45 ERA and a team-leading 108 strikeouts.

Braves: Atlanta signed infielder Rafael Belliard to a $1.1-million, two-year contract and pitcher Steve Bedrosian to a $750,000, one-year deal.

Expos: Tommy Harper agreed to a one-year contract and will return for his sixth year as coach. Harper, 54, has been the batting coach the past two seasons. Montreal also granted Boston permission to speak with bench coach Tim Johnson.

Athletics: Dave Stewart, a member three straight American League championship Oakland teams from 1988-90, could return to Oakland to pitch his final season. Stewart talked with manager Tony La

Russa, who confirmed that Stewart was discussed at organizational meetings this week. Stewart, 37, is a free agent after going 7-8 with a 5.87 ERA for Toronto. He planned to retire, but changed his mind when the strike interrupted the season.

Orioles: Baltimore picked Syd Thrift as director of player development, the Baltimore Sun reported. Thrift, 65, who has worked in the front offices of five major-league clubs, signed a one-year contract to direct the minor-league system, according to the Sun.

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