Have you ever shot for a job position or a specific award, only to be told that you’ve had too much prior experience to be eligible for the position?
If so, you’ve got company in the Yankees’ Hideki Matsui; whose selection as a three-time MVP in the Japanese League was just too much to qualify him as an MLB rookie in the eyes of at least two voting baseball writers.
The 29-year-old Matsui, a favorite for the coveted Rookie of the Year award and the subject of a whirlwind of debate, finally had the plaque ripped out from under his feet this week. The members of the Baseball Writer’s Association of America instead handed the American League award to Kansas City Royals shortstop Angel Berroa.
The question isn’t whether or not Berroa was a deserving choice – he most certainly was; the speedy 25-year-old hit .287 with 17 homers and 73 RBI in helping keep a youthful and scrappy Royals club in the AL Central race – but if the writers should have been allowed to discredit Matsui’s fine season just on the basis that he had a few extra miles of wear and tear on his body.
After all, Matsui is hardly the first Japanese import to come to the major leagues after a professional career and be in the running for Rookie of the Year; heck, Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki (2001) and Kazuhiro Sasaki (2000) and the Dodgers’ Hideo Nomo (1995) all have the award hanging somewhere in their massive estates.
But those writers who punched out the ballot cards were the same ones who dealt with Matsui day after day, and one thing was clear from speaking with Matsui through his interpreter, Roger Kahlon – cool, polished and collected, this was no stranger to the spotlight. From day one, Matsui was a true professional in the public eye; no green rookie jitters here.
So, then, could you blame the writers for not mistaking this battle-tested star left fielder for a jittery newbie? Still, the race for Rookie of the Year was the tightest in 24 years – if just one writer had changed his choice from Berroa to Matsui, the pair would have been even in first-place votes.
"I guess I just looked too old for a rookie," Matsui said in a statement.
And that’s all she wrote.
• Yes, we know the Mets have teased us before with regard to Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez, only to label him a "24-and-one player" – thanks again, Steve Phillips. And we’ve also heard owner Fred Wilpon’s crystal-clear demands to lower payroll for the 2004 season.
But, and we know it sounds crazy, with Texas just dying to dump A-Rod in the Mets’ lap (or anyone’s for that matter), why shouldn’t the Amazin’s get involved in this little free-for-all?
According to Newsday, the latest buzz has the Rangers talking turkey in a wild three-way trade that would send Boston’s Nomar Garciaparra to the Angels and replace him at Fenway Park with Rodriguez, who hit .298 with 49 homers for the hapless Rangers in 2003. Texas would receive scrappy David Eckstein and some pitchers in the trade – an unfair deal in terms of talent, but the Rangers would finally be able to shovel out from underneath Rodriguez’s 10-year, $252 million contract and head toward rebuilding.
Texas was obviously foolish to expend that kind of deal upon A-Rod in the first place, but their error could be the Mets’ boon. The Mets can certainly match a package of Eckstein and some pitching for Rodriguez, who would be a force in the infield and give the lineup that extra ‘oomph’ that a declining Mike Piazza may not be able to provide for much longer.
In fact, Piazza’s days as a catcher may be coming to an end here at age 35. No power-hitting catcher has remained an offensive force past that milestone, and Piazza’s future lies securely at first base, but only since he plays for a National League team. If he were to end his career with a team like Baltimore (who is said to be interested) or the Rangers, he would have the added option of serving as a DH for 162 games a year. The Mets already use him as such in the majority of the interleague games where the option is provided.
Shooting right off the cusp, we’d tend to think that this kind of package might get the deal done: Piazza, Aaron Heilman (lots of promise, but with Jae Weong Seo’s emergence, seems like there’s no room at the inn) and perhaps two lower-level pitching prospects. No Jose Reyes involved; he can slot over to second or third base and continue to spark the top of the Mets lineup.
See how easy that was? All Wilpon has to do now is pull the trigger (easy to say, since my name isn’t the one signing the checks).