Thursday, December 14, 2006

D-Mat is in the dojo!

Is 103.1 million dollars too much to pay for a starting pitcher? If you're even asking a question like that, you're obviously not from Boston! Pending the results of a physical performed at Mass General Hospital last night, Japanese pitching superstar Daisuke Matsuzaka will be joining the Red Sox this spring in its quest to recapture the magic of the 2004 Curse-breaking season.

Personally this news has me genuinely interested in the Sox for the first time since 2004, and hopeful that the GM and the owners have learned that their pennywise and pound-foolish ways have cost them dearly in the hearts and minds of countless loyal fans. Losing Pedro over the issue of another year in his contract and giving Johnny Damon the old heave-ho for daring to want to be paid what he was worth as a free agent were spun as management playing Billy Beane-style "Moneyball", when in fact what Red Sox Nation was getting was a Florida Marlins-style fire sale a la 1997, when a hastily and expensively assembled winning team was dismantled just as quickly following that upstart franchise's capture of the World Series title. Was it mere coincidence that a lot of the same names behind that stunt just so happen to be holding the reins along Yawkey Way when the Sox allowed their winning combination to be scattered to the four corners of the baseball world?

As my three year old daughter would say: "I don't fink so!" (with a special emphasis on the word 'fink')...

The Marlins had to labor for a decade to regain its winning ways, slogging through some pretty miserable times in order to get back to the postseason. While the Sox have been successful in milking its legendary brand loyalty to keep seats at Fenway Park in demand even after a thoroughly disappointing outing last season, it seems that even the folks in charge understand that there's a point beyond which even the mania of the average New England sports fan will not sustain you. I remember being able to walk up to Fenway on a game day in the early 90's and get a ticket for any seat in the park -- even when the Yankees were in town.

While the tickets were certainly cheaper back then, you get what you pay for. And after 2004, no one wants to see the Sox out and out fail to make the postseason again like they did last year. Yankee (no, not those Yankees) thrift be damned It's time for this team to put its money where its mouth is and roll the dice... or "Dice-K", if you will!

To be sure, $103.1 million is a hell of a lot of money, but it's money well spent if it means that our friends in the Bronx don't add yet another dangerous arm to its starting rotation. We desperately needed pitching, and after failing to seal the deal decisively in that regard several years in a row it looks like management finally got one right. People are already griping about the bullpen, which is of course a valid concern, but the whole point of acquiring ace starters is to obviate the need to rely on your bullpen day-in, day-out. If Schilling is back to 100% and Matsuzaka flourishes, that goes a long way into taking the pressure off your middle relievers as well as your closer, who can do the job he's supposed to do and not wear himself out plugging holes in the 7th and 8th innings.

But I'm thrilled about this deal in many respects, not only from a strategic perspective from an international one as well. The globalization of the sport of baseball can only be a good thing, as it ensures that even as American children increasingly turn away from the diamond for other sports that our national pastime will find a way to go on, as one of several international pastimes if nothing else. This year's World Baseball Classic was derided by many nativist blowhards -- the same sort of sports pundits who like to remind us every four years of how much they hate the World Cup, because isn't soccer just communism played with your feet? -- but even the haters were scrambling to get on the Team U.S.A. roster when everyone realized that the rest of the world had come to play, and were actually pretty damned good at the sport to boot.

Landing a marquee Japanese player like D-Mat not only brings a much-needed starter to our rotation, but also brings the attention of Japanese fans and a whole lot of potential advertising revenue for the Sox from the other side of the planet. Ever notice why half the billboards in Seattle's Safeco Field are in Japanese? How long before the Wally the Green Monster starts to look like Godzilla, I wonder (as the lamest of the Major League Baseball mascots, he was always due for a makeover anyway in my opinion)!

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