"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Hideki Matsui and the Loss of (My) Revenue

Hideki Matsui was my meal ticket.  This may smack of metaphor, but it’s almost literally true: every time Matsui homered, the curry shop/Matsui Shrine nearby my office handed me a coupon good for a $2 discount on a future meal. He helped put hundreds of dollars in my pockets over the years – in July 2007 I cleared over $20 bucks just by scheduling my curry fix to coincide exclusively with Godzilla’s crazy dinger binge. Other periods were not so lucrative.

His lengthy injury bouts took a toll on my bank account (pack a lunch? never!) but even a few months on the DL had not prepared me to contemplate a Matsui-less (ergo curry-for-more) future. Based on the resurgent 2009 campaign topped off with the two pillars of Yankee immortality, the World Series Championship and MVP, and the lack of superior options, I assumed Hideki Matsui would collect his ring in pinstripes.  And another $50 bucks or so would be in play for me in 2010.

Brian Cashman assumed no such thing. Matsui was either not in his plans for 2010 or he was such a low priority that the Angels could snap him up with some lip service about the outfield and a reasonable 1 year contract.  But whereas Matsui’s water logged knees may have been deemed too risky, Nick Johnson’s taffy tendons and balsa wood bones apparently pass muster. Matsui must have some grim future knee-cap disintegration scheduled to finish second to Nick “the wrist” Johnson in a reliability ranking.

All of this is to say I will miss Matsui. He was a terrific Yankee and, probably because he lacked a readily accessible English-speaking public persona, I created a very favorable one for him. I’ll miss his unorthodox bail-out hitting approach that seemed to preclude anything but a foul ball to the first base side and abandoned the outside corner as scorched earth, but remarkably produced a heckuva lot more variety than that.  And by opening up his front side so early, he got a good look at left-handed release points and smushed them accordingly.

His booming extra base hits in Game 6 of the latest World Series were fantastic representations of his pull-power skill, but it was the opposite field single that was the key hit of the game for me . That 2 out, 2 strike, “getting the job done” liner dulled the razor edge of the game to something less dangerous.  While in the stands for an interleague game versus the Cubs in 2005,  I watched him size up the loogy summoned to preserve a slim Chicago lead and I knew Matsui was taking him deep.

And yet after 7 years as a Yankee, my lasting visual memory of him is going to be from his very first year here.  In Game 7 of the ALCS, Matsui bested a tiring Pedro Martinez during the Yankees epic 8th inning comeback. While I can still picture his ringing double, the indelible image from that inning is not his sweet swing. It’s his celebratory jump and spin after scoring the tying run. Millions of eyes found the spot where Posada’s bloop was going to land and then swung in unison toward home plate to see Matsui tie the game. We all jumped up together.

Go Go Curry plans to follow Matsui to Anaheim with a new branch (the Manhattan location will stay open, phew, but will they continue to celebrate his Angel homers here in New York? It’s a little unseemly, no?)  So will some fans, advertisers and some ticket sales to be sure. Even still, the Yankees coffers figure to be full. But what of their stature in Japan? Matsui grew up dreaming of being a Yankee - an advantage in the initial courtship. Future generations of Japanese stars may dream of Boston and Seattle before the Bronx – especially if the emerging consesus of Matsui’s departure harbors the specter of Yankee disrespect. This is only temporary and in the evolution of Japanese player movement, possibly meaningless, but there’s no need to hasten the Yankees decline in prestige by treating a national hero shabbily.  I hope they treated him well right to the end and he gets the send-off he deserves.

* * * *

If you’ve read this far, thank you.  Please allow me to impose on you a little longer. I wanted to thank Alex for inviting me to contribute to his wonderful community and Cliff, Emma, Diane, Bruce, Will and Hank for establishing an amazing standard of excellence on this site. And my thanks to all the readers for your ongoing conversation - at once passionate, tolerant and intelligent. It’s a pleasure and an honor to be a part of this group.

I also wanted to make a slight correction to Alex’s gracious introduction the other day. I only played college ball for one semester before blowing out my knee during a winter break pickup football game.  I’ve been lucky to find ways to continue playing in adult leagues after graduation to the present day, but I didn’t want to misrepresent my college experience or claim undeserved authority or expertise.

Looking forward to Bantering with you,

Jon

24 comments

1 Bruce Markusen   ~  Jan 29, 2010 9:20 am

Jon, welcome to the Banter. I, too, share your fondness for Matsui.

2 Ben   ~  Jan 29, 2010 9:32 am

I love the term, smushed, in describing the way he handled lefties.

Great to have you. Good job by Alex for getting you to post!

3 Diane Firstman   ~  Jan 29, 2010 10:10 am

"He was a terrific Yankee and, probably because he lacked a readily accessible English-speaking public persona, I created a very favorable one for him."
===================
How true! I think we all perceived him as being humorous in his own quiet way.

Alex? I like Jon. Can we keep him ... huh .... huh ... can we can we ... pulleez?

IOW, a very nice start to your Banter career Jon. Welcome aboard.

4 bp1   ~  Jan 29, 2010 10:25 am

The '03 jump at home plate stands out for me, too. It seemed so - oh I dunno - so un-Japanese. Pure emotional blastoff. Almost like Spock yelling out "JIM!!" after he thought he killed the captain on Vulcan in that fight-to-the-death for that cheating *itch.

Oh wait .... my nerdiness is showing.

... ahem ...

Even all the grounders to second didn't take away from my Matsui-fandom. He just seemed like a great teammate - a top contributor - and just an all around good Yankee. The banter between Matsui and Jeter was hysterical sometimes. That's probably why my reaction of the NJ signing was so luke warm. Gonna miss the lug. Good luck to him in California.

5 Diane Firstman   ~  Jan 29, 2010 10:27 am

[4]

Let your nerdiness show ... its cute. :-)

Someone on BP.COM mentioned using an acronym "ATP", and I instantly thought of the Krebs Cycle.

(nerd I am)

6 Jon DeRosa   ~  Jan 29, 2010 10:31 am

1 Thanks Bruce, glad to be here!

2 Imagine how hard it is to hit a lefty slider on the outside corner bailing out like that? We should try it next BP, if we can find a lefty who can hit the outside corner that is...

3 Thanks Diane! I wonder if Matsui's magazine/video collection would have been a funnier story if he spoke English publicly or a creepier story?

7 Diane Firstman   ~  Jan 29, 2010 10:34 am

[6]

Imagine how hard it is to hit a lefty slider on the outside corner bailing out like that? We should try it next BP, if we can find a lefty who can hit the outside corner that is…

=================

I hear Randy Johnson isn't busy ...

8 Ben   ~  Jan 29, 2010 11:00 am

6. He must have decided that being able to turn on the fastball was more important than reaching the slider away. Usually the slider is away, away and not worth swinging at anyway. If he found he could recognize it, he's better pulling off in anticipation of the heater.

But the whole approach make me love that guy. As a fan, i break hitters into two categories. great hitters I mean.

On one hand, you have the T-ballers. Arod is the best example I'm familiar with. He has a near perfect swing. He stays with it, he has amazing coverage with it and watch out if you leave one up for him to tee off on.... Have you ever seen Arod have a really off balance swing?

Then there's the other guys... I don't have a name for them.... Matsui, Paulie O. jumps to mind, Boggs, Gwynn, Matingly, Damon, There's a ton. These guys can really crush the ball, but in order to thrive against LOOGY's or to overcome back pain, whatever, they actually design swings that are very off-balance. They look downright terrible sometimes, spoiling pitches Damon, slashing grounders to third Paulie, or rolling over the outside pitch to Second Matsui. It must take so much courage to keep yourself off-balance when you know that's exactly what the pitcher wants...

God I miss baseball.

9 knuckles   ~  Jan 29, 2010 11:01 am

Hear, hear!

I am a longtime BB reader, and a lapsed active Banter-er, but this article prompted me to log in for the first time in a while. Matsui was never a great player, as in part of the top echelon of the game at any point in time, but he was a great Yankee, and will be missed. He’s classy, composed, and dignified, but displays enough emotion and quirkiness (his, ahem, video collection, and the general hilarity around the bet with Jeter and his subsequent under the radar wedding) to keep you guessing.
The home plate jump and Posada’s celebration at 2B after the bloop double are forever linked in my mind.

10 lroibal   ~  Jan 29, 2010 11:19 am

I always had confidence in Matsui to give a quality at bat, to think on the fly and adjust to the situation. There have been players that hit more home runs and had more RBI's over the course of a season but made me cringe when they came to the plate in a big situation. Matsui always conducted himself like the calm in the eye of the storm. I'll miss him too.

11 Diane Firstman   ~  Jan 29, 2010 11:25 am

[8]

Paul O'Neill took some of the WORST swings I ever saw for a LHB. If you threw him something down and in, invariably he'd inside-out it into a popup to 3b or LF.

Then there were times he was a .300+ hitter ... :-)

12 bp1   ~  Jan 29, 2010 11:28 am

[10] It was that calm demeaner that freaked pitchers out. I wish I still had the link to the article where some pitcher said as much - that of all the hitters in the Yankee lineup it was Matsui he feared most 'cause you couldn't rattle the guy. I think this was back in '04 or so.

13 bp1   ~  Jan 29, 2010 11:40 am

[5] Thanks. I haven't been referred to as cute since I got that leisure suit back in the 70's for some grade school chorus concert or some such thing. It went well with the faux-silk shirt and snap buttons. My mother had good intentions - but whoa.

I'll keep the nerdiness in check, though. Don't want Cliff or AB to revoke my posting privileges.

I'll never be the type of fan who just thinks of players in relation to their stats. I like to like these guys, if that makes sense. I liked Matsui. I really liked Bernie Williams. It's not easy to lose guys like that off the team. They had a good mix of talent, quirkiness, friendliness, all that. They just seemed like good guys who would be fun to hang around with - who happened to make a living playing baseball.

14 Diane Firstman   ~  Jan 29, 2010 11:43 am

[13]

I felt that way about Murcer .... (sigh)

15 The Hawk   ~  Jan 29, 2010 11:46 am

Hey this was really well-written.

It also made me re-miss Matsui.

16 ms october   ~  Jan 29, 2010 11:48 am

offically welcome jon - i have really enjoyed all of your posts - i like the flavor you bring - fitting that you wrote about coupons for curry here.

yeah i am really going to miss matsui on the yankees. his problem spot was you could turn him to groundzilla on occasion when he tried to pull that outside pitch, but watch out otherwise.

[13] baseball season is too long not to have some intersting dudes around. completely agree on matsui and bernie (who i still miss)

17 oncewent3for2   ~  Jan 29, 2010 11:53 am

Thanks for this, Jon.

A reputable Japanese media source claims Cashman really soured on Matsui when he backed out of knee surgery at the last minute in July (?) 2008. Seemingly, the chance to step into the box in the last game at the old stadium meant more to Hideki than honoring his initial agreement to go under the knife midseason.
Also, the season wasn't completely lost when that decision was made, was it?

Regardless, Hideki Matsui ended his Yankee tenure in about the greatest way possible, and treated fans on both sides of the Pacific to that sweet blissful blend of victory and class.
What a baseball player.

18 Jon DeRosa   ~  Jan 29, 2010 12:58 pm

Thanks for all the good tidings today folks - it's a big help for a tough work day.

19 Ben   ~  Jan 29, 2010 1:02 pm

[17.] hey once.... what's the name mean?

20 Hank Waddles   ~  Jan 29, 2010 1:28 pm

Jon, great piece. I can picture Matsui's double down the line off Pedro as if it happened yesterday. It was one of those hits that, even watching from the limited perspective of a television screen, you knew was going for extra bases immediately. But you know what's funny? I don't remember the jump and spin. No memory at all. Posada's double-clenched-fist celebration at second? Seared in my mind. But nothing on Matsui scoring. Perhaps, as mentioned earlier, my mind dismissed it as being in complete conflict with his personality. Hopefully it'll pop on Yankees Classics soon so I'll have the chance to get a visual to go along with your description.

21 oncewent3for2   ~  Jan 29, 2010 2:03 pm

[19] a possible addition to the list of impressive attributes of the most interesting man in the world (which more famously includes the ability to speak French in Russian)

22 Chyll Will   ~  Jan 29, 2010 2:45 pm

I'm Chyll Will and I approve this post... >;)

23 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Jan 29, 2010 6:48 pm

[0] Awesome post, thanks! But the loss of your curry pales in comparison to the loss of my morning Yankee games on NHK tv here..how will I survive 2010 watching Angels, Mariners and (god forbid) Cubs games?? Hopefully Dice-K will be on against the Yankees at some point..

24 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  Jan 31, 2010 3:54 pm

Welcome, Jon! I missed Alex' introduction, so I'll be sure to go and find it. Thanks for a great tribute to our dearly departed and welcome aboard! Look forward to getting to know you and your work over the season.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
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