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Zimmer reports debunked

The story coming out of New York Thursday night and picked up by ESPN that Don Zimmer has a deal to join the Devil Rays coaching staff got plenty of attention Friday.

There were, however, a few problems with the story:

a) The Devil Rays say it isn't true. General manager Chuck LaMar said in a statement: "Don Zimmer is a credit to the game of baseball and his positive impact on the game is immeasurable. However, we have not had any contact whatsoever with him concerning employment with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays." Four other team officials said they had not even heard any internal talk of the possibility.

b) Zimmer has not had any discussions with the Rays. "My dad has never talked to the Devil Rays; they've never called him in his life," son Tom Zimmer said Friday morning. "He just called me and said he saw something on TV and said, "What is this?' It's so far from true."

c) The Rays don't have any openings on their staff. Unless third-base coach Tom Foley gets the job as Orioles manager or a coach leaves unexpectedly, the Rays don't have room for Zimmer. The only way they could would be to get a special exemption from commissioner Bud Selig for a seventh uniformed coach, which they could pursue in the coming weeks.

Zimmer, 72, says he is leaving the Yankees after eight seasons as bench coach because he is upset at the way he was treated by owner George Steinbrenner. A long-time Treasure Island resident, Zimmer has yet to return to Florida, remaining in the Northeast to attend a banquet and to have dental work done. According to Tom Zimmer, Don has only a casual relationship with Rays manager Lou Piniella.

In other news:

+ AL stolen base leader Carl Crawford was named co-winner, with NL steals leader Juan Pierre of Florida, of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum James "Cool Papa" Bell Legacy Award. Crawford will receive the award as a Jan. 16 banquet in Kansas City.

+ The Rays announced the signing of three minor-league free agents who will have invitations to spring training: pitchers Ken Cloude and William Glen and outfielder Anton French.

Cloude, 28, has a 16-16 record and 6.56 ERA after parts of three seasons with the Mariners. He hasn't pitched in the majors since 1999 because of injuries.

Glen, 26, was 4-8 with a 3.53 ERA for Philadelphia's Class A Clearwater and Double-A Reading teams.

French, 28, hit .293 with two homers, 22 RBIs, 10 triples and 40 stolen bases in 98 games for Boston's Triple-A Pawtucket team. He has been in eight organizations and three independent leagues.

Sosa staying put

CHICAGO _ Sammy Sosa turned down a chance to pursue free agency, announcing he is keeping the last two seasons of his four-year contract with the Cubs. He will earn $33-million over the remainder of the deal.

RAMIREZ UNCLAIMED: Red Sox outfielder Manny Ramirez went unclaimed on waivers, although agent Jeff Moorad said he still hopes for a trade to the Yankees. Boston also got permission to talk to Angels pitching coach Bud Black and Dodgers third-base coach Glenn Hoffman about succeeding Grady Little as manager.

BULLPEN FIGHT: The Eagle-Tribune of North Andover, Mass., has filed a court petition to open to the public a show-cause hearing that will determine whether two Yankees will face charges for their roles in a bullpen brawl at Fenway Park during the ALCS.

TWO DEFECT: Maels Rodriguez, one of Cuba's top pitchers, defected with fellow player Yobal Duenas in an undisclosed country so he can play in the United States.

IRABU TRIES AGAIN: Hanshin Tigers pitcher Hideki Irabu, a former major-leaguer, intends to become a free agent.

_ Information from Times wires was used in this report.