Ken Caminiti, the 1996 National League MVP who later admitted using steroids during his major league baseball career, died yesterday. He was 41.

Caminiti died of a heart attack in New York, said his agent-lawyer Rick Licht. The city medical examiner's office said an autopsy would be performed today, spokeswoman Ellen Borakove said.

"I'm still in shock," San Diego Padres General Manager Kevin Towers said. "He was one of my favorite all-time players."

The three-time all-star third baseman often was in trouble the last few years. His 15-year major league career ended in 2001, five seasons after he led the Padres to a division title and was a unanimous pick for MVP.

Last Tuesday, he admitted in a Houston court that he violated his probation by testing positive for cocaine last month, and was sentenced to 180 days in jail.

But state District Judge William Harmon gave Caminiti credit for the 189 days he already served in jail and a treatment facility since he was sentenced to three years probation for a cocaine arrest in March 2001.

In May 2002, Caminiti told Sports Illustrated that he used steroids during his MVP season, when he hit a career-high .326 with 40 home runs and 130 RBI. He estimated half the players in the major leagues were also using them.

Caminiti returned to baseball this year as a spring training instructor with San Diego.

"When I saw him in spring training, he didn't look good," Towers said. "I'm not surprised.

"The best way to describe him is that he was a warrior in every sense of the word. I can't tell you how many times I remember him hobbling into the manager's office, barely able to walk, and saying, 'Put me in the lineup.' "

"Man, that's just a tough one. I played with him for eight years," Dodgers outfielder Steve Finley said last night, learning of Caminiti's death after St. Louis eliminated Los Angeles from the playoffs.

"He was a great player, but he got mixed up in the wrong things -- taking drugs. It's a sad reminder of how bad drugs are and what they can do to your body. It's a loss all of us will feel."

Caminiti batted .272 with 239 homers and 983 RBI with Houston, San Diego, Texas and Atlanta.

Rivera Heads Home After Tragedy

New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera was headed back to Panama yesterday, a day after two of his wife's relatives were electrocuted while cleaning the pool at his home.

Victor Dario Avila, a cousin of Rivera's wife, Clara, and his 14-year-old son were killed Saturday, Rivera's cousin, Irma Rivera, told the Associated Press.

The teenager, also named Victor Dario Avila, apparently touched an electrical wire while cleaning the pool in Puerto Caimito, 40 miles east of Panama City. His father died trying to save him, Irma Rivera said.

It was not immediately clear when Rivera would return to New York, where the Yankees open the AL Championship Series tomorrow night against the Boston Red Sox.

Yankees Manager Joe Torre was expected to address the matter during today's workout at Yankee Stadium. New York advanced by beating Minnesota, 6-5, in 11 innings Saturday, with Rivera getting the win.

Avila was a fisherman who also cleaned and maintained Rivera's home. Clara Rivera traveled to Panama following the accident.