Carlos Beltran of the Kansas City Royals was a nearly unanimous choice yesterday as American League rookie of the year following a season in which he was the first rookie in 24 years with 100 RBI and 100 runs.

The 22-year-old switch-hitting outfielder received 26 of 28 first-place votes. He also received one second-place vote and was bypassed on one ballot. He earned 133 points from a panel of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Seattle Mariners pitcher Freddy Garcia was second with 1 first, 12 seconds and 4 thirds for 45 points, followed by Texas reliever Jeff Zimmerman with 27 points. Cincinnati pitcher Scott Williamson was voted NL rookie of the year on Monday.

Beltran was the first rookie with 100 runs and 100 RBI since Boston's Fred Lynn in 1975 and only the eighth overall in a group that includes Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio. He hit .293 with 22 homers, 108 RBI, 112 runs and 27 steals in 35 attempts. Beltran is the third Kansas City player to win the award, following Lou Piniella in 1969 and Bob Hamelin in 1994. . . .

Wade Boggs, who three months ago became the 23rd player in major league history to reach 3,000 hits, apparently is set to retire.

Boggs, a five-time AL batting champion, played for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays the past two years after 11 seasons with the Boston Red Sox and five with the New York Yankees.

Devil Rays Manager Larry Rothschild, attending baseball's general managers meetings, said a news conference to clarify that issue will be held Thursday in St. Petersburg, Fla. . . .

The Mariners were fined $5,000 because of a telephone call General Manager Pat Gillick made to the parents of New York Mets first baseman John Olerud before the player filed for free agency. Commissioner Bud Selig decided that Gillick's call was not made with the intent to tamper under major league rules, and thus, Gillick wasn't fined. . . .

With Fidel Castro managing the home team and Venezuela President Hugo Chavez pitching for the visitors, the two countries will meet on a baseball diamond next week in a game likely to draw at least as much attention as the presidential summit beforehand.

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque yesterday officially confirmed that the game will be played on Nov. 18 at Latinoamericano Stadium in Havana.

"President Chavez had better train well," the foreign minister joked during a news conference. "Our pitcher is a carefully guarded secret!"

Auto Racing

TV Deals in Works

Stock-car racing has had better television ratings than baseball for a few years. Now, it's about to get more money.

Officials from NASCAR, stock-car racing's governing body, are meeting in New York this week with executives from ABC, ESPN, CBS, NBC and Fox to hammer out the details of contracts that could be worth $400 million a year--or $60 million more than Major League Baseball gets.

In the past, individual race tracks sold the rights to their own races. NASCAR convinced them this year that it could do a better job by bundling the rights to its Winston Cup races as other sports do. The idea is going to pay off with four times the current amount of revenue, racing executives and analysts said.

"It's going to blow some people away," said Gary Cooper, an analyst with Banc of America Securities who covers motor sports. The unified contract would start with the 2001 racing season.

Throw in ancillary revenue from selling the rights to pre- and postrace interviews and other marketing opportunities and NASCAR's take could reach $450 million, he said. Of that, 65 percent probably will go for now to the track owners, with the drivers getting 25 percent and NASCAR 10 percent--the same formula that individual tracks use.


Matthaeus to MLS

Lothar Matthaeus didn't come to America to save Major League Soccer. He just wants to be another player--even if he is better than everyone else.

The defender-midfielder will join the league's worst team, the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, in January after his contract with Bundesliga power Bayern Munich expires.

The 38-year-old Matthaeus is coming off one of his best seasons in which he was selected Germany's player of the year. He has played in five World Cups and 25 World Cup games, more than any player in history.

More important, Matthaeus gives MLS a stronger identity. MLS lacks stars--Colombia's Carlos Valderrama, well past his prime, is the most recognizable player--and Matthaeus's presence can only help a league whose attendance and TV ratings stagnated in its fourth season.


Couples 'Honored'

Fred Couples will replace the late Payne Stewart in the Skins Game, event organizers said.

"I'm very honored to be chosen to represent Payne Stewart," Couples said.

"He was a very special person, not only in the golf world but in the world of life."

Couples said his charitable contribution for the Nov. 27-28 event at Landmark Golf Club in Indio, Calif., will be made to the Payne Stewart Memorial and the First Orlando Foundation.


Swiss Punish Cycling

The Swiss national Olympic association punished the country's cycling federation for obstructing drug tests.

The Olympic association cut $32,500 from the cycling federation's annual subsidy following an incident in August at the Wartenberg race in Pratteln, Switzerland. Race supervisors blocked drug tests ordered by Swiss Olympic officials on the grounds the facilities supplied by organizers didn't meet international standards. That judgment was not for cycling officials to make, the Olympic association ruled.


Book Signing

Olympic gymnast Svetlana Boginskaya will sign autographs and copies of her new book at 4 p.m. today at Northern Virginia Gymnastics Academy, 22446 Davis Dr., No. 109, in Sterling.