SPORTS DOCTOR- Eastern ethic? Japanese players come out to work
Few baseball fans (unless sick or overzealous) would cheer an injury. In the spirit of fair play, I don't wish even Manny Ramirez ill, so why would I list Hideki Matsui's broken wrist as a top-10 baseball moment?
Because it solved a mystery.
As of April 5, there were 17 active Japanese players in Major League Baseball. No team boasts more than two on a roster, though the Braves have four in the minors.
MLB better get on the stick.
Many baseball fans still look on Japanese baseball as silly, inferior and just not right. It's like cricket in New Jersey. They sell sushi at the ballpark. It's un-American.
Funny, the first Japanese baseball team came to America in 1905, just four years after the American League's inception.
Long before the Dominican Republic came into play, Masanori Murakami threw his first pitch as a San Francisco Giant. His ERA for 1964-1965? 2.77.
Despite an ERA Sandy Koufax would envy, Marakami was shipped back to Nankai because of a contract dispute with his former team.
No Japanese player suited up again in America until 1995.
It wasn't until 2001 that a Japanese player was brought over to do anything but pitch. In Ichiro Suzuki's first year with Seattle, he batted .350.
Solid, but no better than a lot of red-blooded American players.
In 2003, Japanese players got the unofficial go ahead. The Mariners are one thing, but the Yankees are another. Hideki had a so-so average, .287, but get this: of 179 hits, Hideki's RBI was 106.
I've always been unimpressed with batting averages; it's more important to hit the ball when it really means something than to hit for no gain. 106 of 179 means something.
Not every Japanese position player has numbers like Hideki. This is the key, though: unless a Japanese player is brought over to be a superstar (Ichiro), he tries to have numbers like Hideki. Even poor old Norihiro Nakamura, with only 5 hits for the Dodgers in 2005, had 3 RBI.
When Hideki Matsui's wrist was crushed in a diving catch, he didn't bellyache or belittle the team for having to go on without him like other players have done.
"I feel very sorry and, at the same time, very disappointed to have let my teammates down," Matsui said. "I will do my best to fully recover and return to the field to help my team once again."
Can you imagine Chipper Jones apologizing for anything?
Ichiro aside, Japanese players have been quiet, humble utility players who do their job with little fanfare. They don't have "cribs," they aren't in Pepsi commercials, and they don't get their hair braided.
Who are these people and what do they think they're doing?
They wouldn't be playing baseball by any chance, would they?
Matsui's apology solved the Japanese enigma. He shed light on a culture of workhorses, the likes of which hadn't been seen since the Mets took the subway to the ballpark.
Japanese ballplayers aren't on the field to entertain; they're out there to do a job, and by gum, Gary Sheffield or no Gary Sheffield, they're going to do their best for the team.There are more Japanese players in MLB this year than ever, and it's only a matter of time until their naïve dedication to the game is spoiled. With every season their paychecks are bigger, their endorsements more numerous, and their teammates more jealous.
What could be more American than that?