Grab some bottles of water and head to the basement. Doomsday is upon us and its all my fault. I actually agree with George Steinbrenner, the frogs and locusts can’t be far behind. OK , well, I don’t agree exactly but he has a good point. Even though he’s actually wrong about this one.
If you haven’t heard Angel Berroa recently beat out Hideki Matsui for the AL Rookie of the year award in the closest race in 24 years. This has once again touched off the “are they rookies or not” debate concerning Japanese baseball players. The answer is that they are most certainly rookies. A rookie is any player with less than 130 at bats and less than 45 days in the Majors. The majors are defined as either the American or National League of Major League Baseball. That’s it.
The debate flared up when 32 year old Kaz Sasaki and 27 year old Ichiro Suzuki won the ROY in 200 and 2001 respectively. Baseball purists (read racists) decried the awards as an injustice to U.S. born players. The rational behind these arguments is that if a player plays ten years in Japan he is no longer a rookie. Especially if he is really, really good, and especially if he does not come up through the minors in the US. People who support this line of “reasoning” often cite their high regard for the quality of Japanese baseball, claiming that the minors here are no comparison. Great, time to Rant.
These people are obviously xenophobic morons. Lets break it down point by stupid petty little point shall we?
1. Japanese players are too old to get the ROY.
First off, no one really complained when Hideo Nomo won the award at the age of 27. At the time Nomo was an oddity, a novelty. The backlash began when it looked like a Japanese player would win the award two years in a row. Second, suppose Satchel Paige had won the award. Would anyone complain that he was too old? No chance. Paige was held out of the Majors through the machinations of racist executives but no matter how old he was when he made it to The Show, he was eligible for the ROY. Finally, look at Billy Taylor, closer for the Oakland A’s from 1994-1999. Billy played 14 years in the minors before becoming a rookie at the age of 32. Billy’s story was considered one those great “never give up, never say die” stories of perseverance. I never once heard anyone say he was to old to be a ROY candidate. Too sucky, but not too old.
P.S. Jackie Robinson was 28 when he won the award in 1947, a year older than Ichiro was in 2001 when he was presented with the “Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award.”
2. The Japanese leagues are too good for their players to be considered true rookies.
Really? OK if that’s the case lets invite each division winner to participate in the playoffs each year. After all, if Japan holds a “third major league” shouldn’t they be invited to the post season? Or, we could rename the world series “The North American Series” and have the winner play the Japanese Champions in a true World Series. Now, i’m not one of these nuts who gets mad about the name “World Series” just because all the teams involved play in North America. I believe that the best players in the world come here to play at the highest level. Whether they get here from Campo Juan Marichel in the Dominican Republic, sign as free agents from Asia, or float across from Cuba on a raft made of popsicle sticks, old tires, and mike cartons, the best players in the world play in the MLB. There is no team in Australia, or Yemen who could knock off the Marlins if only they would open the series up to everyone. This includes Japan.
As good as the Japanese leagues may be they are not comparable to the Majors. Here’s an example, below are the two best years in the career of Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes. Guess which one came in Japan and which was in the MLB:
Stat Sample1 Sample2
G: 140 95
AB: 550 269
R: 137 39
H: 180 63
2B: 19 17
3B: 0 0
HR: 55 8
RBI: 131 19
BB: 82 33
SO: Not Listed 64
SB: 9 3
CS: 2 2
AVG: .327 .234
OBP: .421 .318
SLG: .662 .387
OPS: Not Listed Not Listed
If you said he hit 55 homers in Japan and not in Chicago give yourself a gold star and a cookie. Rhodes, a marginal MLB player is now the single season HR king of Japan. Great league ya’ got there. This is not knock on the Japanese leagues. It’s just that they are not as good as the MLB, no one is. That’s why everyone wants to play here. Also, Cuba is a consistent power in international baseball. So far no Cuban defector has won the ROY, but I doubt the same uproar would be heard if a 29 year old defector was in the running.
Now, I opened by saying I actually agreed with Furious George and I know yer just dying to know how. Peep this quote from The Boss:
“One of the writers in question, Mr. Ballou, actually said, 'while he [Matsui] is technically a rookie by the rules of Major League Baseball, he is not a rookie in the spirit of the award.' Spirit of the award? The award was renamed by the Baseball Writers' Association to honor Jackie Robinson, its first recipient. Jackie Robinson came to the Major Leagues after playing in the Negro Leagues, a league whose high level of play is unquestioned.”
Yes George you’re right. There. I did it. However, there is that line about the Devil quoting scripture, and The boss does go on to shoot himself in the foot.
“This year's voting farce, where the appropriate qualifications for the award were blatantly ignored, clearly demonstrates unfairness to first-year players from Japan. And that must be stopped."
Let’s look at the numbers:
Stat Berroa Matsui
G: 158 163
AB: 567 623
R: 92 82
H: 163 179
2B: 28 42
3B: 7 1
HR: 17 16
RBI: 73 106
BB: 29 63
SO: 100 86
SB: 21 2
CS: 5 2
AVG: .287 .287
OBP: .338 .318
SLG: .451 .435
OPS: .789 .788
Berroa led Matsui in 6 out of 13 offensive categories in 56 fewer at bats. But the analysis has to go beyond the raw numbers. The 2002 Yankees won 103 games and had home field for the playoffs. The 2002 Royals lost over 100 games. Berroa was a key player on a team that made huge turn around in 2003 with a lower payroll than in ’02. Matsui on the other hand was a cog on a Yankee team that added payroll and made the World Series on the backs of Andy Pettite and the Curse of the Bambino. Though Matsui did not go through a complete Tuffization he did not approach the 50 HRs he hit in Japan in 2002. Also, Matsui, nicknamed “Godzilla” because of his power was outslugged by a shortstop! I think Berroa won based on merit, not racism; and I think the vote was close for a reason, Matsui was very good, just not better than Berroa. So, Steinbrenner needs to shut his fat yap. He should have learned over the last two years that he can’t win just because he has the most money.
Of course the writers couldn’t let this go without making stupid remarks of their own.
"Again, my regard for Japanese baseball is too high for me to consider Matsui a rookie. Even if I had considered him a rookie, I'm not sure if he would have made my ballot." –Rick Ballou
OK Mr. Ballou, then why did you leave Matsui off of last year’s MVP ballot, after all, the guy hit 50 dingers and led the Japanese league in almost every offensive category. Why haven’t you started your “Bring Back Tuffy” letter writing campaign? Shut up Ballou you racist moron.
OK I’m getting tired so here’s the bottom line. The Japanese leagues are not a third major league. The idea is ridiculous and is an insult to the minor leagues here in the US. Saying you have “too much respect” for the Japanese leagues to consider their players rookies is the same as saying you don’t have enough respect for US minor leaguers to think they could succeed in Japan. (See Tuffy.) The ROY is not an age-based award. It doesn’t matter where you played before. No one counts Warren Moon’s CFL stats, no one cares what Barry Bonds did at ASU, and Japanese league stats are not listed in the Baseball Almanac. All that matters is what you do in the show. Everyone should just shut up about it. Let ‘em earn it on the field. So send my regards to Jackie and Satch, best of luck to Hee-Sop Choi and Byung Hyome-Ryun, love to Tuffy, and give my vote to Kaz Matsui (you’ll know who he is next year if you don’t already) for ROY in 2004.