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Yanks' owner calls voting 'great injustice'

11/11/2003

TAMPA -- One day after his outfielder Hideki Matsui lost a close battle for AL rookie of the year honors to Kansas City's Angel Berroa, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner decried Matsui's being excluded from two ballots.

Berroa won the award by a vote of 88-84 Monday, the closest rookie race in 24 years.

Steinbrenner is steamed that Matsui, a 29-year-old who was a three-time MVP of Japan's Central League prior to joining the Yankees, was left off by two writers who did not feel he should be classified as a rookie.

Steinbrenner released a statement Tuesday blasting the writers and the result:

"While I have great respect for the Baseball Writers' Association of America
and all of its contributions to our national game throughout the years, I
firmly believe that a great injustice has been done to Hideki Matsui.

"Two misguided writers -- Bill Ballou from the Worcester [Massachusetts] Telegram & Gazette and Jim Souhan of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune -- in voting for American League Rookie of the Year, clearly made up their own rules to determine who was and was not eligible for the award and disqualified an eligible candidate who could have won.

"One of the writers in question, Mr. Ballou, actually said, 'while he [Matsui] is technically a rookie by the
rules of Major League Baseball, he is not a rookie in the spirit of the
award.' Spirit of the award? The award was renamed by the Baseball Writers'
Association to honor Jackie Robinson, its first recipient. Jackie Robinson
came to the Major Leagues after playing in the Negro Leagues, a league whose
high level of play is unquestioned.

"This year's voting farce, where the appropriate qualifications for the award were blatantly ignored, clearly demonstrates unfairness to first-year players from Japan. And that must be stopped."

Steinbrenner's statement did not address the fact that Berroa also was excluded from two of the 28 ballots.

The reporters defended their votes.

"When Mr. Steinbrenner spends multiple millions to lure an
MVP-caliber player from a major professional league, he should be
embarrassed that such a high-profile player is vying for the Rookie
of the Year award, and not the American League MVP award," Souhan
said in an e-mail.

"Again, my regard for Japanese baseball is too high for me to
consider Matsui a rookie. Even if I had considered him a rookie,
I'm not sure if he would have made my ballot."

Ballou said he didn't take Steinbrenner's remarks as a personal
attack, "I take it as a difference of baseball opinion."

"I don't think his opinions are unreasonable at all. I'm
comfortable with my vote and haven't changed my mind."

The Baseball Writers' Association of America, which conducts the
vote, said it abides by the eligibility rules set by the
commissioner's office.

"We have honored Japanese players with Rookie of the Year
awards in the past and will probably do so in the future," BBWAA
secretary-treasurer Jack O'Connell said in an e-mail.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.