In a display of creative ingenuity, the people who operate the Yankee Stadium scoreboard like to refer to Hideki Matsui as Hitdeki. Get it? Cuz it sounds like his name and it also has the word “hit” in it. In Japan, members of the press dubbed him “Godzilla” because he was tall, powerful, and from Japan. You know? Like Godzilla. Offensive fans in the Bronx simply refer to him as Sushi. (These would be the same fans who have changed the lyrics for YMCA to “Why are You Gay?” proving that Yankees fans aren’t just classy—they’re classy AND clever.) My friend, the Thunderphobe, has come up with my favorite of the Matsui monikers—Upper-deki. Call him anything you want. (Except maybe Sushi.) Just call him back into the lineup and soon.
It’s been a rough season in a lot of ways. A season riddled with injuries and doubt. All the while I’ve had to process the impending disappearance of the old Stadium. Losing Hideki to a midseason knee injury in the midst of all this was, perhaps, the hardest blow I had to suffer. True, I missed him for the obvious reasons. In his sixty-nine games of play, Upper-deki had been batting .323 with seven dingers and thirty-four RBI’s. Given the fact that our bats seem to have been broken for the majority of the last month, his was one we could certainly have used. But it was more than just that. Hideki has integrity. He has character. He embodies the kind of perfect sportsmanship with which I am so obsessed.
It was apparent early on that Hideki was simply genetically engineered to be better at everything than everyone. In school, his superiority on the field was so pronounced that his brother finally gave him an ultimatum—start batting lefty or get out of the game. He claimed that Hideki’s advantage was simply too unfair otherwise. (I don’t know Hideki's brother, but I am going to go out on a limb and say that he inherited neither Hideki’s natural athleticism nor his sportsmanlike conduct.) Where many of us would have protested—I know I would have—Hideki obliged. It was simply in his nature to do so. He obliged and, despite the handicap, still managed to kick his brother's butt all the way to Osaka and back. This is how Hideki came to throw righty but bat lefty.
Since coming to play for the Yankees, Hideki has continued to display nothing but good sportsmanship and humility. He played through his first three seasons without missing a single game, completing a 1,768 game streak that begun in Japan and ended only when he broke his wrist. This exemplifies Matsui’s dedication, his work ethic. Not once have I heard about Hideki mouthing off to the press or grumbling about a managerial decision. Not once have I heard that Hideki had had a conflict with a fellow teammate. Not once have I heard about Hideki getting angry and throwing something, like a bat or a helmet. Though, interestingly, he attributes his impeccable restraint to an incident in his youth when he had not demonstrated such restraint. He was in junior high, and he threw a bat out of anger. His coach responded to his outburst with a public slapping. Hideki says of the experience that it taught him a powerful lesson. (One would imagine. I think the Japanese educational system might have killed me.) He commented, “From that day on, I resolved never to lose control of my emotions in a game again.” And as far as I’m aware, he never did.
Lest you think that I’m writing with a bias, I’m not the only one who feels this way about the Upper-dekinator. Someone, in fact, wrote a whole book on the subject entitled, “Hideki Matsui: Sportsmanship, Modesty, and the Art of the Home Run.” The book, written by Shizuka Injuin, explains how Hideki’s style of play embodies the important Eastern value that “combines compassion and self-effacement with high achievement.” That it does. He seems to be ever striving to be better. Never asking for our praise for what he accomplishes but only for our forgiveness for what he cannot.
Hideki’s batting stance is a perfect metaphor for his nature and his stoicism. He plants himself firmly on the ground and stands completely unmoving at the plate, like a statue, just waiting for the ball. Hideki doesn’t need to shoot off his mouth because he lets his bat do all the talking. And from the time he hit his first grand slam on his first day at the Stadium, his bat made clear that it had plenty to say.
But don’t go thinking that all of this “character” and “modesty” have turned Hideki into an automaton. I’d say we’ve had proof positive that it has not. When he left Japan to come to America, he offered a tearful goodbye, referring to himself as “selfish” and asking his fans not to view him as a traitor because he was leaving them. It was a farewell that could stir even the hardest of hearts. Really. What a novel concept. A player who actually cares about how his actions might affect his fan base. And if you’re thinking that anyone who’s that nice has to be a giant stick in the mud, think again. I need only refer you to the photo of Hideki that was taken during annual Yankees rookie hazing in 2003. Despite the fact that he was twenty-eight by this point and a long-time professional in Japan, it was technically his rookie year in MLB. Thus, he was subject to the same public humiliation as the rest of the young Yanks. Rather than protest when they forced him to dress up in a pimp suit that looked like it had had a wrestling match with a leopard and lost, he took it in stride. If you ask me, he even seemed to enjoy it.
Earlier this year, Hideki surprised us all when he announced his marriage to “a 25-year-old civilian,” who had “been formerly working in a reputable position at a highly respected company.” I, for, one was a little unclear as to what this meant. Was she a call girl or a day trader? Not to mention the choice of the word “civilian.” As opposed to…a cop? A Navy Seal? It was all so shrouded in mystery. And as if the whole thing wasn’t cryptic enough, Hideki went ahead and released a picture of the girl. Only it wasn’t a real picture. It was a picture he had drawn. A picture that revealed little about the girl’s appearance other than the fact that she was probably Japanese and possibly really creepy looking. Or maybe Hideki had just drawn it with his left hand so his brother wouldn’t get jealous.
It’s not that hard to understand why Hideki wanted to keep the identity of his wife under wraps. Much as we love the guy here in America, they’re just totally mental for him over in Japan. So much so that his apartment in New York is a regular stop on the Japanese tour bus circuit. I have it on record from a reliable source that, on one occasion, Hideki happened to be leaving his apartment as tourists from one of the aforementioned buses was parked in front. The driver, upon noticing that Hideki had emerged from the building and gotten into a car, instructed the passengers to quickly board the bus because they were going on a Kamikaze mission—destination: wherever Hideki was going. According to my same source, Hideki who values his privacy, secretly moved to another apartment after this fiasco. He kept the old one as well so that the touring companies would have somewhere to take their photo happy travelers.
Given this, you can see why a 25-year-old civilian who had been formerly working in a reputable position at a highly respected company would have wanted to protect her identity. Hideki’s marriage was the kind of story that a Japanese US Weekly was going to have a field day with. That or there’s always the possibility that Hideki’s portrait offered an accurate representation, and his wife was just embarrassed because she’s so crazy looking.
Whatever the case may be, all I know is this: Hideki is reported to come back into the lineup tomorrow, and I couldn’t be more excited. Not that our boys looked like they needed much help yesterday. With a Salami for mustachioed Giambi, a three-run shot for A-Rod, and a solo dinger for Nady, the bats did their fair share to help Moose secure his sixteenth win of the season. Maybe they’re finally feeling the flames of the fire under those Pujols. All I know is that yesterday we put on the kind of offensive show I’ve been waiting for. Even Cody Ransom, called up only days ago, came up to the plate for his first at-bat as a Yankee and hit a two-run shot in the seventh inning. The lead was so substantial that it didn’t really matter much at that point, but the crowd still appreciated the significance of his effort enough to give him a curtain call. A curtain call at the Stadium. The last season before it closes. If this guy never gets a major league at-bat again, he’s still luckier than all of us. Unless, say, Yogi Berra or Paul O’Neill or Don Mattingly happen to be reading. Though I guess Don Mattingly isn’t all that lucky. He isn’t all that lucky but at least he doesn’t suck. Unlike some people we know, like Coco Crisp, who sucks. Yes, friendly reminder: You suck Coco Crisp.