It became official this week: Hideki Matsui is no longer a New York Yankee. A month after being named the World Series MVP, Matsui signed a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Living in New York and being obsessed with Japanese culture, I'm a big fan of Matsui's – although I don't consider myself a Yankees fan – so I'm disappointed to see him go.
Most adults who follow baseball – or any professional sport, for that matter – understand that making personnel moves is a business decision. But a lot of people don't realize that having a Japanese player on a team has a strong impact on local business and interest. In The New York Times baseball hot stove blog called "Bats," Times reporter Ken Belson wrote about the impact Hideki Matsui had on Japanese fans in New York City. Because of Matsui's presence on the Yankees, NHK broadcast the Yankees games (home and away), and Japanese companies such as the Yomiuri Shimbun (the newspaper that owns Matsui's former team, the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants) and Komatsu (the construction equipment manufacturer near whose sign Matsui hit one of his World Series home runs). Matsui's leaving may mean those companies will leave as well because without him, there is no reason for them to stay. We already experienced that in New York with NHK. When Matsui broke his wrist in 2006, NHK stopped broadcasting Yankees games, so I'm sure they have no incentive to air games in Japan that don't involve Japanese players.
It's obvious that if NHK, Yomiuri, and/or Komatsu get out of dodge, revenue at Yankee Stadium will be affected. There are also more subtle ways that Matsui's departure will negatively impact the Yankees' and New York's economy. Fewer Japanese fans will attend games, buy Matsui T-shirts, and pay attention to the Yankees. (Japanese fans follow Japanese players in MLB; they honestly don't care about the teams.)
What concerns me the most is the state of one of my favorite Japanese fast food joints in the city, Go! Go! Curry. The restaurant, which serves Japanese-style curry dishes, is essentially a shrine to Matsui; the owner, Hirokazu Miyamori, hails from the former Yankee slugger's hometown of Kanazawa, Japan. Miyamori is such a dedicated fan that he named his curry shop after Matsui's jersey number with the Yomiuri Giants and the Yankees. (Technically, 55 is "go juu go" in Japanese, but why quibble on semantics?) And isn't it a strange coincidence that the Midtown eatery, opened in 2007, is Miyamori's 27th restaurant in his Go! Go! Curry chain, and Matsui recently helped the Yankees win its 27th World Series? Hmm . . .
Anyway, after Matsui's signing with the Angels, a friend of mine asked me if it would be possible that Go! Go! Curry would leave NYC. It can't possibly! It's the best Japanese fast food ever! And Japanese tourists love going there for a taste of home, I'm sure. Miyamori's spokeswoman, Kazuko Nagao, was quoted in The New York Times's Dining Out blog that Miyamori is disappointed by Matsui's departure, but it seems to me that the franchise is staying put. So, maybe all they'll do is remove the pictures of Matsui that adorn the walls and discontinue the discounts offered the day after Matsui hits home runs. As long as I can still have my pork katsu, I'm okay with it.
It doesn't seem like it's all bad feelings between Miyamori and his baseball idol. According to Go! Go! Curry's website, the restaurant is having a "Thank You and Good Luck Matsui Campaign" on Monday, December 21, complete with coupons for a free topping.
The balance of the economy as it is affected by the Japanese community will no doubt shift to the West Coast. Japanese fans of Matsui will start rooting for the Angels, buy Matsui jerseys, and go to Anaheim on vacation. If all goes well, Miyamori says, perhaps he'll open another Go! Go! Curry in Los Angeles.
Good thing Matsui will still be wearing #55.