NEW YORK -- Japanese pitcher Hideki Irabu may have conquered New York, but not all of the reviews of his major-league debut were glowing. Surprisingly, some of the guys he dominated Thursday night weren't all that impressed.
"He's not ready for the major leagues," Detroit Tigers outfielder Brian Hunter said. "You get a team with a little more experience and he won't have the success. I didn't see the power. He has a very mediocre curveball. He needs a year in the minor leagues."
Hunter's comments were a little extreme, considering the success that Irabu had in his 6 2/3 -inning performance, but there was little question that the free-swinging, undisciplined young Tigers lineup was carefully chosen for Irabu's debut.
The Yankees wanted a big strikeout total to pique fan interest. The Tigers were the perfect opponent, since they strike out more than any American League team except the Oakland Athletics. Irabu had nine through five innings, but could not get into double figures before leaving the game in the seventh inning.
"He didn't throw as hard as I'd heard," said Tigers veteran Travis Fryman. "That's what surprised me the most. But his location was better than what I thought it would be with his fastball."
Though the television broadcast reported radar gun readings of up to 97 mph, Fryman said he felt that Irabu's fastball was in the low 90s, but he didn't want to read too much into the first night.
"Tonight is not an indication whether he'll be successful or he won't be successful," Fryman said. "That'll take a few years. I think he'll be a good pitcher, but I wouldn't put him up there with Roger Clemens."
If manager Joe Torre keeps him on a five-day schedule, Irabu will face a tougher test on Tuesday against the Cleveland Indians, then face the Milwaukee Brewers and Seattle Mariners. Four of his first five starts will be at home, which also is no accident.
Griffey on Griffey
Seattle outfielder Ken Griffey does not hide from the media fascination with Roger Maris' single-season home run record, but he said at the All-Star Game that hitting 62 home runs in a season is not a personal obsession.
"Everybody is talking about it except me," Griffey said. "People want me to tell them how I'm going to do this or that. It's not right. What I'm about is going out and helping my team win.
"I just want to be me and whatever happens, happens. I don't want to be someone other people want me to be. My job is to help people win, not going out and trying to break records or whatever else people expect."
Griffey arrived at the traditional halfway point with 30 home runs and 84 RBIs in 87 games. He'd finish the season with 56 homers and 156 RBIs if he maintained that pace.
"I don't want people saying that if I don't hit 61 home runs, then I didn't have a good year," Griffey said. "But that's what people think. I'm going to do what the pitchers let me do. If they let me hit, I'll hit. If we need a single to win, I want to hit a single."
Anguish of Albert
Poor Albert Belle. The embattled Chicago White Sox outfielder once tried to embed a baseball in the chest of a spectator, has been known to chase down trick or treaters with his car, has been caught with a corked bat and once directed an obscenity-laced tirade at TV sportscaster Hannah Storm before a World Series game.
But his brother and spokesman Terry Belle says that he is the victim of a double standard, especially in Cleveland.
"It amazes me," he told the Chicago Tribune. "He was in this community for 10 years, he did a lot of positive things, and still they treat him badly. Will they boo Clemens when he comes back to Boston? I've always said it's a double standard. Albert Belle should be in the same class as a Cal Ripken, a Ken Griffey. He was an Eagle Scout, he played in the Junior Olympics, and he's a Christian. He was a Roberto Clemente Award nominee twice, and he's very genuine. Just because he doesn't like the spotlight, doesn't mean he should be put in that category."
Apparently, it was all just a big misunderstanding. Belle should be showing up in one of those Boy Scouts of America public service commercials any day now.
If you want to feel sorry for someone, how about former Kansas City Royals manager Bob Boone, who was fired on Wednesday and replaced with veteran major-league coach Tony Muser.
Boone was hired to rebuild a bad ballclub, but was fired because the partially rebuilt model was 10 games under .500 at the All-Star break. Royals GM Herk Robinson apparently felt the team should be a contender because he acquired Jay Bell, Jeff King and Chili Davis over the winter.
But in Boone's defense, he was playing with a thin offensive team and no dependable closer, a sure prescription for failure in the AL.
The National League Central title still is available to any team that wants to play above .500 in the second half, which has become something of an embarrassment to some of the marquee players in the division.