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Ump Denies Ties To Perfect Game Balls

American League umpire Al Clark, the focus of major league baseball's investigation into the sale of baseballs said to have been used in David Wells' perfect game in May, has denied any involvement.

"Until Richie Phillips (head of the umpires' union) told me six weeks ago about the situation, I didn't know anything about it," Clark said from his Williamsburg, Va., home.

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The 50-year-old umpire said he was not involved in the trafficking of the balls, and did not guarantee their authenticity.

"I've become the victim of someone else's greed," said Clark, who said he was instructed by major-league attorneys not to comment on the investigation.

The four umpires who worked the game were investigated and cleared of any wrongdoing by major league baseball, according to a source. Clark, who did not work that Yankees-Twins game, is still being investigated.

A baseball official speaking on condition that he not be identified told The Associated Press on Saturday, "the sport has found no evidence of wrongdoing involving the umpires who worked the game, but were still focusing their investigation on Clark."

Mark Lewis, a dealer in Centereach, L.I., bought 14 balls at $300 each from Rich Gressle, a New Jersey man known for selling baseball memorabilia. According to a story that ran in Saturday's New York Times, Gressle said he got the balls from Wells at Yankee Stadium, and that Wells signed each ball.

Lewis told the New York Post in a story that ran in Saturday's editions that Wells called him to say he saw an advertisement for the balls being sold by him.

"He said, `It didn't seem right. I thought I had all the balls from the game. I don't understand how you could have them,"' Lewis said.

Lewis received six balls and sold four of them for $1,000 each before giving the customers the option of returning or keeing them once baseball began its investigation after Wells reported the matter to officials.

"I understood the balls came from Clark and other umpires," Lewis said in the Times' story.

Gressle told the Times he wrote a letter authenticating Wells' autograph on the baseballs, and forged Clark's signature.

Gressle insisted Clark was not at all involved.

"I told people at major league baseball when this first started that Al had nothing to do with this, but nobody wanted to believe that. Al Clark did not write the letter. I wrote it," Gressle was quoted as saying in the Times.

"I made up the letter and traced over Al's signature from something I had here and gave it to Mark," Gressle said. "This is all my fault. It's nobody else's fault. I did it. Al Clark had nothing to do with this."

Clark is confident his name will be cleared when the investigation is concluded.

"The fella (Gressle) who did this completely exonerated me with his statements," Clark said.

"I know I didn't do it. I know that I was not involved."

Clark acknowledged that he has known Gressle for a number of years.

"We had been friends," Clark said. "I don't think there's any friendship there now to speak of."

When asked about Gressle's comments and the skepticism that Gressle may be covering up, Clark said emphatically, "All I can say is that I did not do it."

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