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Rookie Mistakes / Steinbrenner blasts two writers who left Matsui off ballot

Having already satisfied his appetite for rearranging

coaching jobs, George Steinbrenner blasted two reporters yesterday for omitting

Hideki Matsui from their Rookie of the Year ballots, and also labeled this

year's voting a "farce" for allowing such an "injustice" to happen.

This figured to be a tumultuous offseason for the Yankees in the wake of a

six-game World Series loss to the Marlins, and The Boss quickly axed hitting

coach Rick Down the following week. But Steinbrenner took a break from shaking

up his own club yesterday to defend Matsui, who finished second to Royals

shortstop Angel Berroa, and attack the two reporters, Jim Souhan of the

Minneapolis Star Tribune and Bill Ballou of the Worcester (Mass.) Telegram and

Gazette.

"While I have a 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,"

Steinbrenner said in a statement. "Two misguided writers . . . 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."

Steinbrenner expressed only minor irritation Monday night after Berroa was

announced the winner, saying that Matsui "richly deserved to win" the award and

that "the leftfielder for the Yankees, in my estimation, is the Rookie of the

Year." But his mood changed drastically the following afternoon, apparently

after reading Ballou's explanation that Matsui was "not a rookie in the spirit

of the award," because he had been a three-time MVP of Japan's Central League

before signing with the Yankees.

"Spirit of the award?" Steinbrenner continued. "The award was renamed . . .

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."

Three former players from the Japanese league - Hideo Nomo (1995), Kazuhiro

Sasaki (2000) and Ichiro Suzuki (2001) - have won the award, but there has

been some debate whether or not such established Japanese stars should be

considered rookies upon their arrival in the United States.

While Souhan and Ballou did not view Matsui as a rookie in their

estimation, Major League Baseball defines a rookie as any player that does not

have more than 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the majors during a

previous season or seasons, nor more than 45 days on a team's 25-man roster.

Matsui meets those specifications.

"Voters are entitled to their opinions," said Jack O'Connell, who as

secretary/treasurer of the BBWAA counts the ballots for each election. "We

consider anyone in their first year in the major leagues a rookie, but that

doesn't mean they all get Rookie of the Year votes. Each individual voter is

entrusted to make that judgment and is entitled to his or her opinion. These

are two respected writers. They've been voting for years."

Matsui may have been missing from two of the 28 ballots, but Berroa, who

edged him (88-84) in the tightest race in 24 years, also was left off two

belonging to Pat Caputo of the Oakland (Mich.) Press and Bill Campbell of the

Dallas Morning News. Steinbrenner chose to ignore that detail and focus instead

on his twin targets.

"This year's voting farce, where the appropriate qualifications for the

award were blatantly ignored, clearly demonstrates unfairness to first-year

players from Japan," Steinbrenner said. "And that must be stopped."

Souhan disagreed with Steinbrenner's take on the voting and tweaked the

Yankees owner in the process of defending himself for the second time in as

many days.

"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 he would have made by ballot."

Ballou also refused to back down in the face of Steinbrenner's bombast and

found the verbal assault from The Boss amusing.

"I understand that there's a lot of strong feelings on either side of the

argument," Ballou said. "So I'm not surprised that the owner of the Yankees, as

Matsui's employer, would support him in that way. After all, he did pay him $6

million to be a rookie. It doesn't change my position. I really do think that

I made a decision according to my conscience and I'm comfortable with that."

No Matsui

The Rookie of the Year ballots for Jim Souhan and Bill Ballou:

Jim Souhan

Minneapolis Star Tribune

1. Angel Berroa

2. Jody Gerut

3. Rocco Baldelli

Bill Ballou

Worcester Telegram and Gazette

1. Rocco Baldelli

2. Jody Gerut

3. Angel Berroa

New York Sports