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Murray reluctantly endures ballyhoo of gaining on 3,000

He truly is a man who speaks softly and carries a big stick. And in a week or so, Eddie Murray will find himself in the most uncomfortable of places _ the spotlight.

Murray, Cleveland's combo first baseman and DH, is about to become the 20th player in baseball history to total 3,000 hits. He has 2,992 and probably will hit the plateau in Kansas City or Minnesota.

Murray has elected to remain private in the very public world of major-league baseball. He declines most interview requests, stays away from controversy, and rarely lets anyone know what he's like off the field.

Even with the milestone approaching, Murray has preferred to let his bat do the talking.

"I don't put numbers in my head," Murray recently told Cleveland writers. "I just try to keep going. The challenge is to improve every year. My consistency is something I'm most proud of, because that's what the game is all about _ going out every day and trying to produce."

Murray, 39, has done that rather well. He has driven in at least 75 runs in each of his 18 major-league seasons (only Hank Aaron, with 19, had more 75-RBI seasons). He has played in more than 150 games in each non-strike season but one. And he is a consistent switch-hitter: .288 right-handed and .276 left-handed going into this season.

"I like playing," Murray said. "That's why I'm here. Always enjoyed the game. I don't need someone to motivate me. Everybody should be able to motivate themselves. I don't know, I've just never been a rah-rah type of person. There are times when you get up and yell and try to cheer your teammates on. But that's all you can do when you're not up at the plate."

Murray clearly is not enjoying the attention brought by his impending milestone. Oh, well. He could go through it again next year.

He has 467 home runs and with some pluck could join Willie Mays and Aaron as the only players with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs.

Take that: There was a little skirmish between the Expos and Reds last week _ in the broadcast booth. After Reds announcer Marty Brennaman remarked that Montreal pitchers Carlos Perez and Pedro Martinez were "going to get someone killed" because they hit so many batters, Expos GM Kevin Malone burst into the WLW radio booth.

"All of a sudden I heard someone screaming at the back of my box," Brennaman said. "We were between innings, so I turned around, and he was telling me to take back what I said. I told him, "I absolutely will not back off that statement,' and he said, "Have you got something against Latin Americans?' I couldn't believe it. I said to him, "Hold on, you're accusing me of being a racist,' and he ignored that." Malone didn't back down the next day, claiming Brennaman was "irresponsible."

Add it up: One reason the Twins are so bad is they are so young. "I went from being one of the guys to the oldest guy on the club," said outfielder Kirby Puckett, 33. "Everybody's calling me Grandpa."

Parting shot: The Orioles not only are disappointing, but in disarray, according to recently released catcher Matt Nokes. "I think (manager Phil Regan and GM Roland Hemond) have been in a panic since I first got here," Nokes said. "They are very disorganized. There's a great group of guys here who can really play, but (the front office) doesn't have a clue, and I don't think they had one when assembling this team."

Hard fall: Willie Banks was the third player chosen in the 1987 draft, ahead of Jack McDowell, Kevin Appier and Albert Belle, among others. Last week the Cubs barely could give him away, trading him to Los Angeles for Class A pitcher Dax Winslett.

Don't wait up: Don't expect Boston DH Jose Canseco back in Pawtucket, R.I., anytime soon. Canseco was booed and harassed during his rehab stint with the Triple-A club. "I was very traumatized with what happened down there," Canseco said. "You'd think I was coming from an opposing team. You'd think I'd just murdered a family of 10 or something, the way they treated me after the strikeouts."

Miscellany: The Twins have until July 7 to trade closer Rick Aguilera. After that, he will have 10 years in the majors to go with his five with one team, giving him veto privileges. The Giants agreed to pay $125,000 of Darryl Strawberry's $850,000 salary with the Yankees.

_ Information from other news services was used in this report.

Hit men

Cleveland's Eddie Murray is on the verge of joining an impressive club of players with 3,000 or more career hits:

Player No.

1. Pete Rose 4,256

2. Ty Cobb 4,191

3. Hank Aaron 3,771

4. Stan Musial 3,630

5. Tris Speaker 3,515

6. Honus Wagner 3,430

7. Carl Yastrzemski 3,419

8. Eddie Collins 3,309

9. Willie Mays 3,283

10. Nap Lajoie 3,252

11. George Brett 3,154

12. Paul Waner 3,152

13. Robin Yount 3,142

14. x-Dave Winfield 3,098

15. Cap Anson 3,081

16. Rod Carew 3,053

17. Lou Brock 3,023

18. Al Kaline 3,007

19. Roberto Clemente 3,000