Berroa barely edges Matsui for AL honor

NEW YORK -- Kansas City shortstop Angel Berroa beat New York Yankees outfielder Hideki Matsui for AL Rookie of the Year in
voting that rekindled the debate on whether veteran Japanese
players should be eligible.

Florida pitcher Dontrelle Willis easily defeated Milwaukee
outfielder Scott Podsednik to win the NL award.

Berroa's victory came in the closest AL rookie race in 24 years.
He received 12 first-place votes, seven seconds and seven
thirds for 88 points in totals released Monday by the Baseball
Writers' Association of America. Matsui got 10 firsts, nine seconds
and seven thirds for 84 points.

It was the closest vote since the BBWAA adopted the current
format in 1980, a year after Minnesota's John Castino and Toronto's
Alfredo Griffin tied with seven votes each. Berroa and Matsui each
were picked on 26 of 28 ballots.

Berroa had to lean against a wall to hold himself up when he
heard the news. He then jumped and shouted.

"I was astounded," Berroa said from his home in the Dominican
capital of Santo Domingo. "Super-happy is the ideal expression to
describe how I feel about receiving this honor."

Berroa, 25, spent parts of five seasons in the minor leagues
before this year and began 2003 with 128 major league at-bats.
Matsui, 29, was a three-time MVP of Japan's Central League before
signing with the Yankees last winter.

"I guess I just looked too old for a rookie," Matsui said in a
statement, going on to congratulate Berroa. "I think he deserves
to win."

Each was missing from the ballots of two voters.

Pat Caputo of The Oakland Press in Michigan and Bill Campbell of
The Dallas Morning News left off Berroa. Bill Ballou of the
Worcester Telegram & Gazette and Jim Souhan of the Minneapolis Star
Tribune didn't include Matsui.

"I really do think he is not a rookie in the traditional and
true sense of what a rookie is," Ballou said. "I think major
league baseball has to look at redefining what a rookie is."

A rookie is a player who hasn't accumulated 130 at-bats or 50
innings pitched in previous seasons and hasn't spent 45 or more
days on 25-man active rosters, not including times when the active
list is expanded to 40.

"I think everyone has concluded that there's no realistic way
to delineate between players who are early in the careers and come
into major league baseball, and players who come from other leagues
-- Japan, Korea, independent leagues in the United States," said
Sandy Alderson, executive vice president of labor relations in the
commissioner's office.

Souhan's thought process was similar to Ballou's.

"I just could not in good conscience pretend that Hideki
Matsui, this great player from what I consider to be a major
league, was on the same footing as a 22-year-old kid trying to
learn to hit a major league curveball," Souhan said. "I think it
would be an insult to the Japanese league to pretend that
experience didn't count."

Berroa told reporters in the Dominican Republic he was just
happy to win.

"I think Matsui had an extraordinary performance (this season)
and he also deserved to win the award," he said. "But I'm glad
that baseball writers took into consideration the difference in
playing experience that each of us had before this season."
Tampa Bay outfielder Rocco Baldelli finished third in the AL
voting with 51 points, followed by Cleveland outfielder Jody Gerut

"I'm happy that Matsui didn't win," Gerut said. "I don't want
to take anything away from Berroa and it's nothing against Matsui,
but I think if you asked Matsui, I don't think he would qualify
himself as a rookie."

Yankees owner George Steinbrenner thought Matsui should have

"As far as I'm concerned, the person who plays left field for
the Yankees was the Rookie of the Year," he said in a statement.
"All year round, New Yorkers cheered him, and he gave great
inspiration to our fans."

Pitcher Hideo Nomo won the NL award for Los Angeles in 1995.
Seattle reliever Kazuhiro Sasaki won the AL award in 2000, and
teammate Ichiro Suzuki took it home the following year.

"Rookies are rookies, regardless of the age," said Willis, who
doesn't think older players such as Matsui should be ineligible.

Willis received 17 first-place votes and 118 points, while
Podsednik got eight firsts and 81 points.

"I never thought I would make it to the big leagues so soon,
let along have success," said Willis, who signed out of high
school in 2000.

Willis, 21, went 14-6 with a 3.30 ERA, slumping in the second
half of the season. The high-kicking left-hander went 9-1 with a
2.08 ERA in making the All-Star team, then went 5-5 with 4.60 ERA
as the Marlins earned the wild-card spot.

Willis was dropped from the Marlins' rotation after two
postseason starts, limited to relief appearances during Florida's
World Series win against the Yankees.

Podsednik hit .315 for the Brewers with nine homers, 58 RBIs, 43
steals and 100 runs. Arizona pitcher Brandon Webb was third in the
NL voting with 73 points.

Berroa is the fourth Kansas City player to win the award,
following Lou Piniella (1969), Bob Hamelin (1994) and Carlos
Beltran (1999). Willis is the first Florida player to win the NL