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For Yankees, Justice Is Served


The New York Yankees acquired a slugging outfielder - no, it wasn't Sammy Sosa.

In an effort to boost their struggling team, the Yankees traded outfielder Ricky Ledee and two players to be named to the Cleveland Indians on Thursday for David Justice.

"I'm stunned," Justice said from Kansas City, where the Indians played the Royals. "But business is business. That's the game we play. I'll go there and play hard like I do everywhere. I've never really felt comfortable there as an opposing player."

After a tentative deal for Detroit's Juan Gonzalez fell through because New York couldn't agree to a contract with the Tigers' outfielder and days of flirtation with the Chicago Cubs about acquiring Sosa, the Yankees finally made a deal.

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The weeks of speculation have weighed heavily on the World Series champions, who are 15-26 since reaching a season-high 13 games over .500 on May 9.

After winning three titles in the last four years, the Yankees would not be one of the four AL playoff teams if the season ended today.

The Yankees entered Thursday night's game in Detroit 3 1/2 games behind Toronto in the AL East and third in the wild-card race. They were 10th in the league in scoring and fourth in ERA.

Owner George Steinbrenner has been pressuring his "baseball people" to make a trade and questioned Ledee's toughness earlier this season. Steinbrenner and his executives left the team's minor league complex in Tampa, Fla, around 7:20 p.m.

A baseball lawyer said the deal ends the Yankees' pursuit of Sosa. If the Yankees make another major move, it would be for pitching.

"I think ultimately Sammy will be traded," said Tom Reich, Sosa's agent. "This one got real close. But there was a difference of opinion on the players. But I think ultimately there is a deal to make."

The deal frees up money for the Indians in time to re-sign Manny Ramirez, who is eligible for free agency after the season. Justice is making $7 million a year through 2002; while Ledee is making just $240,000 this season and isn't eligible for salary arbitration until after the 2001 season.

"This frees up money rigt now to go get players now and for the future," Indians manager Charlie Manuel said. "We want to get one more big bat, try to get a starting pitcher and one back-in bullpen guy."

The Indians, who have won five straight AL Central division titles, entered the night eight games behind the Chicago White Sox.

"If we accomplish the things we want to, this move helps our ballclub short-term and long-term," Manuel said. "By no means are we giving up like we can't win the division this year."

Justice, a left-handed hitter who should excel with the short right-field porch at Yankee Stadium, was hitting .265 with 21 homers and a team-high 58 RBIs for Cleveland.

Ledee, whose name has been linked in rumored trades for Jim Edmonds, Gonzalez and Sosa, had struggled all season. He was hitting .241 with seven homers and 31 RBIs.

"He's never fulfilled his potential as far as the Yankees," Manuel said. "He's got some pop in his bat and has a chance to be a good bat."

The teams have agreed on a list of 5-to-6 second-tier prospects of which Cleveland can choose two. Pitcher Jake Westbrook, who went 0-2 with a 13.50 ERA in three appearances with New York, is believed to be one of the players on the list.

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