Originally created 11/29/06

La Russa believes McGwire deserves to be in Hall



NEW YORK - Tony La Russa will defend Mark McGwire until the end: To him, Big Mac is a Hall of Famer.

"I've believed in him from day one. I still believe in him," the St. Louis Card-inals manager said Tuesday in an interview with The Associated Press.

McGwire is appearing on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time, and an AP survey of 125 baseball writers who are eligible to vote showed that only one in four who gave an opinion planned to vote for McGwire.

McGwire, a 12-time All-Star, is seventh on the career home run list with 583, but his status plummeted in the minds of many after former Oakland teammate Jose Canseco accused him last year of using steroids.

La Russa managed McGwire from 1986-95 with the Athletics, then from 1997-2001 with the Cardinals. He repeatedly has said that he never saw McGwire use any performance-enhancing drugs.

YANKEES: New York won the bidding for Japanese pitcher Kei Igawa when the Hanshin Tigers accepted their offer of about $25 million.

The Yankees have until midnight at the end of Dec. 28 to work out a contract with Igawa, who has an 86-60 record with a 3.15 ERA in Japan.

RED SOX: Boston has made an offer to pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka that team president Larry Lucchino describes as "fair" and "comprehensive."

Boston bid $51.1 million for the right to negotiate with Matsuzaka, who was the MVP of last spring's World Baseball Classic. The team has until the end of Dec. 14 to sign him.

CUBS: Alfonso Soriano will be paid $18 million annually in the final five years of his $136 million, eight-year contract with Chicago, the fifth-richest contract in baseball history.

Soriano's deal gives him a complete no-trade provision and guarantees a suite on Cubs road trips.

CARDINALS: St. Louis made its first big moves since winning the World Series, agreeing to a $10 million, three-year contract with second baseman Adam Kennedy and a $4 million, one-year deal with right-handed pitcher Kip Wells.

BLUE JAYS: Frank Thomas hopes Toronto can add a top pitcher to its roster. For now, they're content to keep their catcher.

Gregg Zaun stayed with the Blue Jays by agreeing to a $7.25 million, two-year contract.

Thomas, who agreed to a $18.12 million, two-year contract, said he would like to see Toronto sign a "superstar pitcher" to compete with New York and Boston.

DODGERS: Left-handed pitcher Randy Wolf and Los Angeles finalized an $8 million, one-year contract.