Friday, November 6, 2009

Matsui As A Reflection of Our Priorities

I am not a rabid baseball fan, though I'm exposed to them on a regular basis. My guy is a Braves fan. (Condolence cards are indeed appropriate.) My son is a lifelong Yankees fan. My dad liked the Mets as a sad substitute for the Brooklyn Dodgers and his beloved Ebbets Field. I used to own an autographed picture of Jerry Koosman.

For this particular World Series, this family was rooting for the Yankees. It was a no-brainer for son, of course. And he was an emotional mess throughout the series.

"I'm taking every single pitch personally," he told me. "I was a total wreck in game 5."

It reminded me of how I used to feel during his Little League career, when he'd deliberately get the bases loaded when he was on the mound because it was so much fun to shut the other team down as he suddenly started throwing rockets. Why I didn't have ulcers I don't know.

For my guy, the Yankees were the better alternative to a Philly team that he dislikes intensely. He normally feels the same way about the Yankees, but this year he saw a team that, for the first time in a long time, seemed to be having fun. He liked that. He was a pitcher, too. I'm surrounded.

And we have a houseguest, my stepson-equivalent, who was forced the watch the game with us as a wave of sadness emanated from his Red Sox slippers and tee shirts. I think his Red Sox baseball cap spontaneously combusted after game six.

But here's the thing: as Hideki Matsui single handedly carried the Yankees to a World Series victory in game six, the announcers were talking about the fact that the team will probably let him go. In fact, perhaps it's already happened.

"It's either Damon or Matsui," Joe Buck said. "The team needs younger players and it looks like they'll be letting Matsui go."

I became a Hideki Matsui fan at that moment. I've read a little about him now, just enough to like him even better. He's got class. Not only did he play his heart out while having the sword of Damocles hanging over his neck, but he's given a small fortune to charity. He lives his life outside of the limelight - nobody's even sure who it is he married in 2008.

He broke his wrist in 2006 game against the Red Sox. He missed a catch. He grabbed the ball and threw it back - with a broken wrist. A broken bone didn't stop him from doing his job, particularly as he'd made a mistake. Even his nickname, Godzilla, tells you something about him. According to Wikipedia (I'll have to guess they're right), the nickname was first given to Matsui in Japan because of a skin condition he had. It was derisive.

Matsui has become such a monster at the plate, such a force, that the nickname stuck as a description of his ability, as a compliment. He just kept his head down and kept playing. Classy.

So here's a guy who's the MVP of game six facing the likelihood that the team will be letting him go. It's a business decision - too many aging players, no room for a DH heading into the downside of his thirties.

I'm not arguing with whatever the Yankees have to do. Their job is to maximize the odds of another series win. They pay Matsui, he does the job. Yet it strikes me as sad. This is what sports is. This is what the world is. Excel, do everything you're paid for and more, and see yourself let go because you don't fit an organization's future plans.

I'm just going to be a staunch Matsui fan. I'll root for him wherever he goes. The guy's an example of doing things right.

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