Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Thank You, Hideki

Hideki Matsui signed a new contract with the Angels on Tuesday, and did so to very little fanfare. Part of this is that on the same day one of the biggest trades in recent memory went down and the best starting pitcher signed a major deal with one of baseball's biggest teams. Part of this is the point Matsui is at his career, an aging veteran that, although still productive, is no longer in his prime. Part of this is that the deal itself, one year for $6.5 million, isn't overly exciting in terms of commanding people's attention.

This is sort of what Matsui's career in America and Major League Baseball has been like, and I think his changing teams with such little attention is just another example of that. In fact, despite all the things listed above, this is likely a big part of why it happened so quietly. Matsui always seemed to fly under the radar. But while he did so, the Yankees got seven magnificent years of baseball. Maybe this was never fully appreciated (in fact, this is probable), but it certainly did not go unnoticed for Yankee fans really paying attention to the team. Not seven good years. Seven tremendous years.

Matsui hit .292/.370/.482 over those seven years. Two were substantially shortened by injury. In the five that weren't, Matsui averaged 25 home runs and 105 RBI. That the Yankees paid him only $73 million over those seven years, or barely more than $10 million per, only makes him that much more valuable.

All of that is, amazingly, sort of beside the point. I say amazingly because anyone would want that production at that price. But that wasn't what Matsui's biggest strength was. After all, while the numbers are very good, elite they were not. What they were, however, were rock solid. Reliable. Consistent. Clutch. These are the phrases that really come to mind when thinking about Matsui. Every day that Matsui played, he hit.

You didn't always notice him. I can't really tell you why. Maybe because he seemed so quiet and stoic. Maybe because he was overshadowed by the other stars in the Yankee lineup. After all, Rodriguez came aboard just one year after Matsui (has it really been that long?). I don't really know. But I do know that it doesn't make any sense. In addition to his solid production, he truly had a flare for the dramatic. I said it above, and I'll say it again because I can't say it enough: he was flat out clutch. One of my father's best friends is a huge Yankee fan just like my father and I are. We e-mail all the time about the team. After Matsui signed, he e-mailed me that in his opinion Matsui was the best clutch Yankee since Yogi Berra (who was apparently off the charts in the clutch, I obviously don't know as I never saw him). I've seen Jeter get a lot of big hits, but Matsui is right there in my opinion too. It seemed like he was always, always getting big hits. And that's because he was. In that way, it is beyond fitting that he came in hitting a grand slam in his first game as a Yankee and in Major League Baseball on Opening Day 2003 in the Bronx, and left crushing a homer off Pedro and collecting 6 RBI in the clinching game of the World Series to net him the World Series MVP.

Matsui did all of this while being the consummate professional. Not just in terms of the dignified way he carried himself off the field, but in the way he approached the game. He cared. He wanted to win. He took his job very seriously. It is not lost on me that after his somewhat dissapointing rookie year, his injury ridden 2006, and his injury ridden 2008, he came back to have big seasons the next year each time. He viewed playing at a high level as a responsibility to the team, not just a goal. You always got the sense that Matsui's teammates loved him for this. With Jeter in particular, it always seemed like he had this veneration for the way Matsui approached the game. There is little more that you could ask for from a player.

For all of these reasons, it's sort of saddening to me that someone that conducted himself this way, and provided the sort of production Matsui did, flew so under the radar while he was in pinstripes. But I get the feeling that might be how he preferred it, which makes it a little bit more okay. What really saddens me is that Matsui just left and signed elsewhere with little more than acknowledgement from most. No, it isn't a huge loss for 2010, but that's not what it's about. It's about what Matsui did for the last seven years, culminating with the postseason he had this year. All of us Yankees fans owe Matsui a big thank you, for the way he produced, for the way he approached his job, for the way he conducted himself. We may not have always noticed him while he was here, but he's probably the exact kind of player you don't really realize what you had until you don't have it anymore. And that's really too bad, because Matsui was great for seven years.

So thank you, Hideki. When I look back on Matsui's tenure, I'm always going to remember it in a great way. So many big hits, so much consistency. What will stick out for me the most, however, is probably what will stick out the most for a lot of Yankees fans: the 2009 World Series MVP. It may have taken seven years, but Matsui finally got his due. It was overdue, but he got it regardless. To say that it was well-deserved is an understatement. Whenever his first game against the Yankees is, no matter if I'm at the game, watching on TV, or listening on the radio, I'll be giving him a standing O. He deserves that too, for everything he did in pinstripes for the last seven years.

14 comments:

the gm at work said...

I mean, I pretty much wrote all I had to write about Matsui in my post "Perfect Attendance" back in November. But Pat nailed the fact that he's gone underappreciated in New York. It could be argued that he has been one of the top players of the decade.

However, it's notable to say he's not on Rob Neyer's reputation-destroying list that listed Nancy Drew as #22 and Mariano Rivera as #24. This is all I want to say about this list today--I might attack it tomorrow.

Matsui was never the guy you had to look out for--that was always Jeter, Arod, Giambi, or some of those other clowns. But once you think you're okay walking those guys or getting them out, Matsui hits a two-run double or jacks one out of the park. There were many occasions that I was wondering, "he's not that good, why can't the Red Sox get him out?" The answer really is because he WAS that good, just never talked to the media and didn't speak English.

I got nothing but love...and fear...for Matsui.

Ross Kaplan said...

Completely agree with you guys. It probably helped that he couldn't speak fluent English, but he just showed up to work everyday and just quietly did his job and did it awfully well. I still remember coming back home from school on Opening Day 2003 and watching Matsui jack a grand slam in his first game at Yankee Stadium. Also how he seemed to come through on almost every opportunity in the 03, 04 and 09 playoffs. Pretty unbelievable stuff and I will miss that from him.

That being said I understand why Cashman let him go without any real attempt to reassign. It definitely wasn't the money, 6.8 million is a drop in the hat for this team. With his knees totally shot he just simply cannot be trusted in the field.

Now the problem is who we replace him with. I really don't think Miranda or Nick Johnson are viable solutions for this team. That was like when we started the 04 season with Bubba Crosby in center field. On a team with a payroll this high it's inexcusable to start a journeyman or cast off. If they can sign Holliday or Bay for a short, less than 3 year contract that would be the most ideal situation, if not he may have to go to a platoon.

from the bronx said...

matsui will be missed and i think most fans do appreciate his production. with the yankees, great players can get overlooked because there are multiple HOF-caliber players walking around the clubhouse every day. matsui definitely falls into that category, and the language barrier was another factor that served to minimize his visibility.

on another note, i just finished watching the curtis granderson press conference. is there more of a class act in the game of baseball?

Patrick said...

and how about cc showing up to sit in on the presser and welcome him? that's leadership and being a team. it's amazing how far this club has come in those types of regards in such a short period of time.

Patrick said...

and rodriguez is there too, who knows how many others. i really like seeing granderson's new teammates show up like this fresh off a world series to welcome him. shows me that we are starting to think about 2010.

Anonymous said...

"and how about cc showing up to sit in on the presser and welcome him? that's leadership and being a team."

A nice gesture but nothing to do with leadership. It doesn't really matter who shows up to the press conference. As usual you read too much into things.

bandi

Patrick said...

i disagree with you in total (how about that for not waivering?). in no way am i saying it's a major deal (to your point that i'm reading too much into it). but i think it has everything to do with leadership and being a team. cc and teixeira became leaders in the clubhouse this year, and when one of your most high profile players in cc who is also a leader shows up to welcome a new player, that sets a tone for what kind of team the yankees are going to be.

i'm a believer that talent matters first. but i'm also a believer that team chemistry is really a bonus in a team's corner. we've probably all been on teams that got along great and teams that didn't. when you're on the team that gets along great it doesn't necessarily trump talent, but it makes the day to day operation of being on the team much more pleasant. over the course of a baseball season that spans 8 months, that can really be a big plus. having guys like cc who take leadership roles in creating that kind of atmosphere is very helpful in that regard, because he's one of the team's best players on the field, and if one of the team's best players is going out of his way to be a good teammate, it sets an example for everybody else.

Anonymous said...

Bandi

I love that you're back to stirring it up. We need more of that here.

PF

We lived in Dana 142 right at the time that Matsui was at the height of his powers, so you're well aware of my respect for his bat. He was the guy who killed you once you thought you'd gone through the fire. Really, he scared me more than anyone on those 2003-2005 teams. It just seemed like he was hitting a line drive every time he came to the plate. Even the outs he made were loud (people forget this, but he hit a laser off of Pedro moments after Jeter cleared the bases to give the Yankees a 4-2 lead in Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS. It took a sliding catch by Trot Nixon to prevent two more runs from scoring. That catch saved the season).

--the Gunn

Anonymous said...

Gunn,

I appreciate the sentiment, but I'm not even doing this to stir things up. I'm trying to address Pat's faulty view of leadership. Yes leadership and chemistry is important, but he misses my point. My point wasn't that it's not important for your best players to be leaders and promote chemistry. My point was that showing up to a press conference doesn't have anything to do with it.

That's like saying that if a CEO shows up to his company's Christmas party that all of a sudden she/he is showing great leadership and promoting chemistry. That's not the case. It doesn't matter. What matters is what happens the other 364 days of the year. If CC and others are doing the right things outside of press conferences that's what matters. That's what earns your teammates respect. I'm sure they couldn't care less who shows up for the press conference.

Ultimately though if this gets Pat excited then good for him. It's the holidays so let's count our blessings. I'm glad you are happy Pat.

But you are also naive if you think that doing the right thing in front of the camera has any correlation to what happens when the camera's arent rolling. And it's what happens when the camera's aren't rolling that matters.

Patrick said...

bandi -

i don't disagree with any of what you're saying. i think all of that stuff counts towards leadership/team chemistry too. probably more than showing up at a press conference. i just don't see why showing up at a press conference doesn't count too? it's december 17. these guys have baseball related activities almost every day for 8 months. nobody would blink if they didn't make an effort to show up to welcome a new teammate. but they did. is it a big deal? as i said, no, of course not. but i do think, that in addition to the things you listed as well as many others, this is part of leadership/team chemistry. i think you're naive if you think that something like that isn't meaningful to the player being introduced. right off the bat, it sets a tone for what kind of team he is joining. i also think you're naive if you don't think younger guys look at cc and rodriguez doing something like this, again amongst many other things, and say this is what kind of team i'm apart of, and this is how i need to act as well. again, i'm not saying this is a huge deal, i'm just saying i think this is one example of it.

i also think you're christmas party analogy is totally misguided. the president of the company is not the first year employee's direct peer. cc and rodriguez are the other 23 guys' peers, no matter what the disparity in ability. the president showing up at a company christmas party doesn't set any kind of example of anything for anyone to follow, really. but your peers, who also happen to be more talented than you, doing the right thing for the team, not just by showing up today, but at all times sets an example and probably encourages other people to do similar things. the press conference is just a small example of the greater atmosphere guys like cc are creating. if you don't think that's the case, you really haven't been paying much attention to the yankees the last 12 months.

from the bronx said...

it is not a big deal either of them chose to show up. a-rod will go anywhere there are cameras and microphones, and cc lives 30 minutes from the stadium year round and didn't even bother to put a tie on.

where was jeter? guess he's not a good leader because he didn't bother to show.

Patrick said...

gunn -

"people" may forget that laser by matsui and subsequent catch by nixon, but i don't. you are right that nixon's catch probably did save the season. really, all three runs could have scored there (after jeter's double, pedro hit rodriguez and walked sheffield). if that ball gets by nixon they might all be coming in. that play and tony clark's ground rule double down the right field line that popped into the stands by about an inchs in the top of the 9th of the same game (game 5) are the two that plays that really stick out in my mind from that series. if it doesn't get into the stands, ruben sierra scores, the yankees are up 5-4 in game 5, and the red sox have to rally again off rivera. lotta woulda couldas from that series. it's amazing, over 5 years and a world series championship later, my body still starts shaking in anger thinking about that series.

Patrick said...

i guess all ability to make a simple comment on this blog is lost. way to blow it out of proportion, bronx. i didn't say that anyone who didn't show was not a leader, i just said that a few of the veteran/stars showing up is a good thing for general team chemistry. but i guess putting a tie on has something to do with it. as always, a very pertinent comment in total from you. good job.

Ross Kaplan said...

Come on guys, we're all friends here, except for Bandi whose just a stain on society. In the spirit of the holiday season how about if we all just have a civil discussion of baseball and life and all just get along.