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Sun Spots: “Matsui vs. Ichiro”

This week we talk a little golf, a lot of baseball and a bit of hoops news as well. Enjoy and feel free to comment!

Stan Awtrey of PGATOUR.COM: “It was fewer than 30 years ago when a golfer from Asia was seen as a curiosity. Isao Aoki went shoulder-to-shoulder with Jack Nicklaus at the U.S. Open in 1980, and people were stunned. T.C. Chen would have won the 1985 U.S. Open had he not double-hit a wedge from the rough and handed the trophy to Andy North.  Tommy Nakajima made some noise at the Masters in 1986, and people were shocked when he finished eighth. Boy, how things have changed. No longer are players from the Far East considered incapable of competing with the rest of the world. Thanks to accomplished players like T.C. Chen and Shigeki Maruyama, Asian players have proven they could win on the PGA Tour.”

Randall Mell of GolfChannel.com: “History is there for the taking for Jiyai Shin. She locked up LPGA Rolex Rookie of the Year honors last weekend with her sixth-place finish at the Hana Bank-Kolon Championship in her native South Korea. As defending champion at the Mizuno Classic in Japan this week, Shin is favored to win her fourth LPGA event of the season. Play begins Friday at Kintetsu Kashikojima Country Club. Shin’s bid to join Nancy Lopez (1978) as the only players to win LPGA Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year honors in the same season moves closer to reality with a successful defense. She would be the first South Korean to win the Player of the Year honor.”

Michael Street of Baseball Daily Digest: “Earlier today, Zach Sanders wrote about the story of the Aki trade for BDD and wondered why the Pittsburgh Pirates would trade for Akinori Iwamura, the Japanese second baseman, whom they will pay $4.85M to man the keystone next season. On the surface of it, this might not make sense. Iwamura’s coming off knee surgery, which kept him out for most of this season; he returned sooner than expected, but could only muster a ..246/.297/.319 line in 22 September games, dragging his season line down to .290/.355/.390… Their pitching staff is a different story, but there’s some help in the minors there, too—and that’s where this story turns. I’d argue that the Pirates don’t consider Iwamura as someone that will help them right away, but down the road, as they bring in new arms.”

The Braves are going to announce their new three-year contract extension with Tim Hudson meaning that they’ll have seven starting pitchers on the roster. Someone will have to go. Who that will be is undecided but could possibly include Kenshin Kawakami.

Faithful Rafu reader George Nakagawa has been giving me tips on players to check out in Japan, but recently called me to tell me that he had never heard about the Ichiro/Matsui non-friendship I wrote about in last week’s J-Slanted. Here’s several links on background info on Ichiro and his history with Matsui.

Keizo Konishi a special writer to The Seattle Times talks in depth about Ichiro in a 2005 piece: “I’ve been covering Ichiro since 1994, and from my experience I can say one thing for certain: Ichiro loves Seattle, and is extremely grateful to the fans here who have been supporting him. To really understand this, you need to look at the tough times he went through when he played in Japan. During the last three years before he came to Seattle, when Ichiro was playing for the Orix Blue Wave in Kobe, Japan, there were so few fans in the stands that you could look out from the press box in Green Stadium and count them. For six years, starting in 1995, Ichiro received the most votes for the Japanese All-Star team, 1.6 times as many votes as Hideki Matsui, now with the Yankees. If you consider that Orix was the least popular of the 12 Japanese professional teams, and that the Tokyo Giants, Matsui’s team at the time, was far and away the most popular, it should give you an idea of how phenomenal Ichiro’s popularity was.”

Jim Caple of ESPN write in 2003 of the possible birth of a rivalry: “Hideki Matsui tells a revealing story. He’s a year younger than Ichiro and when he was a junior, his Seiryo high school team traveled to play Ichiro’s Aikoudai Meiden high school. In Japan, teams frequently take communal baths after games and because Matsui’s team was the guest, they went into the bath first. When Ichiro arrived and found Matsui in the bath, he considered it a serious breach of etiquette. Ichiro was a senior and the first bath is reserved strictly for seniors. Ichiro never forgot the perceived affront. When the two were on a TV show a dozen years later after they had both reached the majors, Ichiro had an important question for Matsui. ‘Why did you take the first bath?’”

Caple further explains this rivalry in another piece from 2003: “The two players also are very different. Ichiro is guarded with reporters—like Bonds, he traveled with his own p.r. people during last year’s major-league tour of Japan—while Matsui is much more open and outgoing. Ichiro is a slap hitter and superb outfielder. Matsui is a power hitter and an average outfielder. There already is a rivalry growing between the two players. Back when both played in Japan, Ichiro once grumbled that ‘I could hit .400 and still Matsui would get more attention.’ And despite the gracious words expressed recently, Matsui and Ichiro appear to be, as gossip columnist Walter Winchell used to say, ‘Don’t invite ‘ems.’ In other words, they’re not the biggest fans of each other.”

Christian Red of Daily Sports News in a 2003 article: “Before Ichiro entered the batting cage to take a few practice swings, Seattle GM Pat Gillick showed the Seattle right fielder a copy of Tuesday’s Daily News, in which a cartoon Godzilla foot dwarfs an Ichiro caricature. Ichiro burst into a loud cackle and said (without the help of an interpreter), “That’s good, that’s good.” Before walking toward the plate, he was asked if it’s accurate to call him “cranky” with the press. Ichiro smiled and shook his head.

John M. Glionna of Los Angeles Times: “Ichiro is the stoic media-shy obsessive with the Seattle Mariners, who toiled in the obscurity of the smaller of his country’s two leagues before becoming the first Japanese position player to dominate in MLB. Matsui of the fabled Yomiuri Giants of Tokyo, is the one who famously cried on national TV when announcing his decision to leave for the Yankees, and who was swiftly forgiven at home as he shattered the perception that Japanese players couldn’t hit the long ball in the American game. If it was a rivalry for popularity in Japan, it wasn’t really close. For years after leaving Japan, Matsui grabbed the headlines and the big endorsement deals back home. He stroked the media entourage that shadowed him, his personality as big as the town he played in. Ichiro did his best to ignore the media. Racking up records but playing on a non-contender, the Mariners’ outfielder came to be seen as moody, even petulant. Then came the first World Baseball Classic in 2006, and the baton was passed.”

Ignorance still reigns in the U.S. I guess. NBA TV analyst Rick Kamla uses the wrong terminology when referring to the New Jersey Nets’ Yi Jianlian.

by JORDAN IKEDA

Sports Editor

One Comment

  • Alex
    November 5, 2009 | Permalink |

    As a Yankee fan and Matsui fan – thank you for producing someone like Hideki Matsui. A true legendary Yankee. Hitting over .600 and driving in an insane 6 rbi in game 6 of the World Series – incredible! Godzilla has roared and I hope the Yankee ownership bring him back. Go Yankees, go Matsui!

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