Wed, Nov 12, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Berroa, Willis win rookie award

AP , NEW YORK

Florida Marlins' Dontrelle Willis pitches against the Atlanta Braves in the first inning in Miami, in on Sept. 13. Willis was named the NL Rookie of the Year on Monday.

PHOTO: AP

Kansas City shortstop Angel Berroa beat out 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.

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."

It was the closest finish since the BBWAA adopted the current rookie voting format in 1980, a year after Minnesota's John Castino and Toronto's Alfredo Griffin tied with seven votes apiece.

Berroa hit .287 with 17 homers, 73 RBIs, 21 steals and 92 runs, cutting his errors from 19 in his first 63 games to five in his last 95. Matsui batted .287 with 16 homers, 106 RBIs, two steals and 82 runs.

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 said he was just happy to win.

"I think Matsui had an extraordinary performance [this season] and he also deserved to win the award," Berroa said. "But I'm glad that baseball writers took into consideration the difference in playing experience that each of us had before this season."

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