Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Value of Godzilla

Being a North Carolinian, I grew up an Atlanta Braves fan. When I began watching baseball, the first thing my father taught me was to hate the New York Yankees. Thirty years later, I'm living in New York and working on a freelance basis for the YES Network, which televises New York Yankees games. The Yankees defeated the Philadelphia Phillies to win the World Series Wednesday night, and I was fortunate enough to witness it at Yankee Stadium as a member of the Fox television crew.

Although I still can't quite call myself a Yankees fan, I am a fan of at least one of the team's players: Hideki Matsui. Of course, I like him because he's Japanese. He made World Series history in more ways than one. His six RBI ties the record for most RBI in a single World Series game, set in 1960 by Bobby Richardson, who was also a Yankee. He is the first full-time designated hitter and the first Japanese-born player to be named Most Valuable Player of the World Series. Pretty amazing accomplishments for a 35-year-old with a pair of rusty knees.

It wasn't Matsui's first MVP award; he won it in the 2000 Japan Series as a member of the Yomiuri Giants. Often referred to as the Yankees of Japan, the Giants won its 21st Japan Series title last night against the Nippon Ham Fighters. While Japanese baseball fans cheered on either the Giants or the Fighters (most likely the Giants), they had one eye on the presumptuously named World Series. Matsui – or Godzilla as he's been known since his days at Seiryo High School in Kanazawa, Japan – is still a fan favorite in Japan. His stock there went down slightly after he declined to play for his country in the World Baseball Classic, but the Japanese are interested in Japanese players doing well in MLB. And Matsui made them proud. In the World Series he had a .615 average, a double, three home runs, and 8 RBI. Each of his home runs gave the Yankees the lead.

The MVP award doesn't belong solely to Matsui; it's an award that is cherished by all of Japan. In the Wall Street Journal noted Japanese baseball author and expert Robert Whiting described Matsui's MVP as "the crowning achievement of Japanese baseball." Other publications have also stated how important it was to Matsui's native country for him to win the World Series MVP in such strong fashion. The Associated Press posted pictures of fans watching Matsui's at-bats on TVs in Tokyo department stores, the New York Times mentioned the throng of Japanese reporters who have been following Matsui around since his first day as a Yankee in 2003, and the Japan Times featured quotes from past and present Japanese baseball greats praising Matsui's achievement.

Another special aspect of Matsui's performance is that the bat he used during the game will be displayed in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

Engulfed in the crowd of Japanese reporters, Hideki Matsui answers postgame questions at Yankee Stadium after winning the World Series and being named MVP. I hurriedly snapped this blurry picture when I walked by on my way to the field. I wanted to take more, but I didn't want to intrude. (Nor did I want to get kicked out of the building.)

Matsui batted fifth in the Yankees lineup the night of the World Series clincher. Alex Rodriguez walked to lead off the 2nd inning, and Matsui golfed a shot off of the Komatsu sign in right field.

Since this is the last year of Matsui's contract, the game on Wednesday night could have been his last as a Yankee. It's strange to think about Godzilla in something other than pinstripes, but for now, I hope he – and the rest of Japan – is savoring his MVP moment.


Daniel said...

I'm super jealous that you got to be there for the final game of the World Series. Was it more tense than your usual work or are you so used to it by now that it was just another work day?

Do you think Matsui will go back to Japan if Yankees don't resign him?

shrinecastle said...

The atmosphere was pretty intense, but I'll be completely honest, I didn't do much. I was essentially the support operator. (I probably shouldn't admit that.)

As for Matsui, I've read that the Mariners could be an option if Ken Griffey Jr. isn't re-signed. If he goes back to Japan, he would probably have to play for a Pacific League team and DH. Matsui has said that he'll work this offseason to get himself back into shape to play the outfield, but let's be realistic. He's 35 years old and has rickety knees. I hope he proves me wrong, though.