Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Infernal Wind

Through no fault of his own, a fair number of Bostonians will be sick of Daisuke Matsuzaka before the poor guy gets to pitch in Fenway Park. There's nothing so irritating as a force-fed cult of personality, especially one with a built-in tinge of patronization. The Red Sox hired a pitcher, not a combination pre-teen idol and house pet.

Flights leave leave Logan for Tokyo and arrive here from there every day. Haven't we passed the point where Japan is considered an exotic foreign land of terminal cuteness? Matsuzaka didn't defect from tyranny. He wasn't brought back alive from an unknown island by a scout armed with tranquilizer darts. The Sox spent a bazillion bucks to hire him, just the same as if they'd signed Jason Schmidt, Barry Zito, or some other mundane American hurler.

Aside from the startling number of innings Matsuzaka's already pitched in his career, there's no reason to believe he won't be successful. If he's almost as good at his job as Hideki Matsui is at his, the Sox will get their money's worth.

Matsuzaka's assimilation or lack of same into life in the United States isn't of interest to me. Attempts by Bostonians to use Japanese cultural symbols to cheer him on strike me as downright offensive. You know some dodo is making up a million signs with the Japanese scorecard sign for strikeout even now. Put yourself in Matsuzaka's shoes. Imagine your first days on a new job in Osaka. If everyone you met wore red, white and blue and whistled "I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy," would it put you at ease, or freak you out?

Sadly, innocent sportswriters will find themselves cast as extras in the manufactured Dice-K fad. The large group of Japanese reporters who'll be assigned to follow Matsuzaka's tenure with the Sox will stand in for the fans they're writing and broadcasting to back home. These diligent professionals will be burlesqued as members of some odd cult by Boston media needing a cheap laugh.

Here's a tip, sports fans. Anyone who indulges in that crap is a first degree bush leaguer, a loser of monumental proportions who shouldn't be sent to Quincy on assignment, let alone Japan.

I've dealt with Japanese reporters at four Olympics, as well as the groups assigned to cover Ichiro and Matsui. They're plain old scribes like the rest of us. There's nothing exotic about what they're doing. To me anyway, their professional devotion is admirable.

Understand this. Outside the Baghdad bureau, there's no job in journalism as grindingly hard as baseball beat writer. The beat guy is never home and always on deadline, usually facing more space to fill than news to put in it. It's a gig that eats minds and destroys marriages. There's a reason why most beat men and women are under 40, and a good number under 30. Sooner or later, the beat person chooses life over baseball.

Now consider being a baseball beat person half a world away from home, dealing with a language where even the alphabet is different, writing stories when your today is your reader's tomorrow. Imagine using your second language to acquire information from ballplayers to whom you're not just a pest (you're used to that) but a strange, unsettling pest. If you have a family, you kissed them good-bye last week, and you'll see them again in November.

I miss sportswriting more than I can say. Need a job, too. But I couldn't and wouldn't do what the Japanese writers assigned to Matsuzaka must do. They have my deepest respect.

Respect. It'd be nice if that was our governing principle towards Matsuzaka's Red Sox tenure. I'm not hopeful, though. As the career of Manny Ramirez makes clear, Boston prefers the binge/purge cycle of love and hate to the simple dignity of respecting skill.


At 5:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Buckley and Shank will be the first two whining about Dice K's coverage...Cafardo isn't smart enough to understand what the hell is going on...(I'm actually excited to see how many incorrect statements he'll write weekly), of which the Globe won't write corrections to. Business as usual there. And the idiots on EEI will just fuel the flames...and please, if there is a God, don't let Sterns anywhere near Fenway for the entire season!


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