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Youth is served in Berroa's win

NEW YORK -- 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 yesterday 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, 25, 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, 2 steals, and 82 runs.

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.

Tampa Bay outfielder Rocco Baldelli, a Rhode Island native, finished third in the AL voting with 51 points, followed by Cleveland outfielder Jody Gerut (20).

"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."

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 alone 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 lefthander 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.

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