SANDERS A FREE AGENT: Cincinnati outfielder Deion Sanders filed for free agency after declining to exercise his $2.5 million player option, and Jack McDowell filed a day after the Indians turned down his $4.8 million option.

Montreal infielder Doug Strange also filed, increasing the total to 131.

Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield got a $12 million, three-year contract with Boston and first baseman John Jaha agreed to a one-year contract with Milwaukee worth $3,387,500.

GRIFFEY IS PLAYERS' CHOICE: Ken Griffey Jr. was picked as baseball's player of the year by major leaguers in the Players Choice Awards.

Griffey hit 56 home runs with 147 RBIs for Seattle and won a Gold Glove in center field.

Mark McGwire, who led the majors with 58 home runs while with Oakland and St. Louis, was chosen man of the year.

Griffey and Colorado outfielder Larry Walker were chosen as outstanding players in their leagues, Toronto's Roger Clemens and Montreal's Pedro Martinez were outstanding pitchers, and Boston's Nomar Garciaparra and Philadelphia's Scott Rolen were outstanding rookies.


SCHLAPPI WINS HEROES AWARD: Mike Schlappi of Sandy was chosen by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers of America as the Utah recipient of the 1997 SGMA Heroes Award.

Schlappi, paralyzed at the age of 15 after an accidental gunshot wound, never lost his will to compete or drive to succeed. Instead of giving up on a very promising athletic career, Schlappi became involved in wheelchair athletics and eventually founded the Wheelchair Sports Foundation in 1990.

Now, more than 200 disabled athletes are involved or aware of athletic opportunites throughout the state.

As a state SGMA Heros Award winner, Schlappi will receive a $100 cash award as well as a $400 donation toward the Wheelchair Sports Foundation. He is also eligible to become one ofg three national SGMA Heroes award winners who will receive $3,000 cash awards and $15,000 donations to their organizations.


DEL NEGRO INJURED: The San Antonio Spurs have placed guard Vinny Del Negro on the injured list with a sprained right ankle.


BEARS SUSPEND SPELLMAN: Defensive end Alonzo Spellman refused exploratory arthroscopic surgery on his ailing left shoulder, so the Chicago Bears suspended the former first-round pick indefinitely without pay.

Spellman's agent Leigh Steinberg plans to file an appeal.

PROBATION FOR BROWN?: The Green Bay district attorney said he will urge Green Bay Packers 350-pound nose tackle Gilbert Brown receive probation and counseling but not jail time for striking his girlfriend last summer.


BURKE OUT OF LINEUP: Four days after being charged with beating his wife, goaltender Sean Burke was removed from the lineup for Carolina's game against Detroit. However, the team said he could play by week's end.

Burke was charged Sunday night with assaulting his wife Leslie during a domestic dispute, police records show. He spent 211/2 hours in jail before being released.

Burke, a four-time team MVP, and Trevor Kidd have been alternating in goal for Carolina. Burke is 0-4-3 this season.


AMERITECH CUP: At Chicago, second-seeded Monica Seles overcame 18-year-old Magdalena Grzybowska of Poland, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the second round of the Ameritech Cup.

In early matches, sixth-seeded Mary Joe Fernandez was upset by Belgian Sabine Appelmans 6-2, 6-1, Indonesia's Yayuk Basuki defeated Lilia Osterloh 6-0, 6-3, and Japan's Ai Sugiyama topped Tara Snyder 6-4, 6-3.

STOCKHOLM OPEN: At Stockholm, Sweden, Slovakia's Karol Kucera upset fifth-seeded Thomas Muster of Austria 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, while eighth-seeded Tim Henman of Britain outlasted Sweden's Magnus Gustafsson 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 in second-round matches at the Stock-holm Open.

Top-seeded Patrick Rafter of Australia moved into the quarterfinals with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Belgium's Johan Van Herck.

In first-round matches, fourth-seeded Jonas Bjorkman led 6-4, 5-2 when Germany's Marc-Kevin Goellner retired with a hip injury, and two-time defending champion Thomas Enqvist of Sweden beat countryman Magnus Norman 7-5, 6-3.

KREMLIN CUP: At Moscow, Daniel Vacek of the Czech Republic upset fourth-seeded Gustavo Kuerten of Brazil 6-2, 6-4 in the $1,125,000 Kremlin Cup.

In other second-round matches, top-seeded Yevgeny Kafelnikov of Russia defeated Zimbabwe's Byron Black 6-4, 6-3, and second-seeded Czech Petr Korda downed Denmark's Kenneth Carlsen 7-6 (8-6), 5-7, 6-4.

Bohdan Ulihrach of the Czech Republic withdrew because of an ankle injury.

Auto racing

INDY 500 RULE CHANGE: After breaking from years of tradition by cutting practice and qualifications for the Indianapolis 500 in half, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will return to an age-old practice next year.

The IMS on Wednesday restored a separate pre-May testing period that will be mandatory for rookie drivers and voluntary for veterans.