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Giants sign Darryl Hamilton to two-year contract

January 11, 1997

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ In 1995, the San Francisco Giants traded for Deion Sanders and made him their leadoff hitter and center fielder. He was not re-signed after the season.

Last year, the Giants signed free agent Stan Javier and made him their leadoff hitter and center fielder. He was limited by injury to just 71 games and 274 at-bats.

Now, the Giants are trying again. They signed Darryl Hamilton to a two-year contract Friday, and expect him to be their leadoff hitter and center fielder this year.

Hamilton has a .291 career batting average in eight AL seasons and has the highest fielding percentage in major league history.

``Darryl is a very rare commodity,″ Giants general manager Brian Sabean said. ``He obviously fills two of our critical needs as an accomplished leadoff hitter and exceptional center fielder.″

Hamilton, 32, who ranked among AL leaders in hits and at-bats last year while playing for the Texas Rangers, had spent his seven previous seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Hamilton had a career-high 41 steals in 1992, but was limited in the following few seasons by hamstring and groin pulls. He trained at the University of Houston the past two winters with sprinters Carl Lewis and Leroy Burrell to improve his running mechanics.

``Working out with those guys obviously made me a lot stronger, a lot faster,″ Hamilton said. ``And I haven’t had any more muscle pulls.″

Hamilton had the best fielding percentage of any outfielder in the major leagues last year, handling 389 chances without an error to set an AL record. The mark previously was held by Javier, who went 335 chances without an error in 1995 for the Oakland Athletics.

He has played 166 consecutive errorless games, and has committed just eight errors in 1,798 chances in 767 career games for a .996 fielding mark _ the highest percentage among players with 750 or more games.

Of course, he has never played in San Francisco _ where the winds make it perhaps the toughest outfield in baseball.

Hamilton’s throwing range had been limited since ligament reconstruction surgery on his right elbow in 1994, but he said it now is close to 100 percent.

``I didn’t have any major problems last year. I’m back to where I was throwing about four years ago,″ Hamilton said. ``My arm is a lot stronger than it’s ever been.″

Hamilton’s signing comes two days after the Giants signed right-handed relief pitcher Doug Henry as a free agent from the New York Mets.

Sabean has made several moves since the end of last season, including the trade of Matt Williams to Cleveland for three players.

``After finishing in last place the past two years, we realized that we needed to make major changes to help produce a winning ballclub,″ Sabean said. ``We’re trying to build this organization from a last place team into a winner.

``It’s like building a house, you try to build it a room at a time. And Darryl is like a whole room.″

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