Bill Chuck (Billy-Ball his own self)
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The only spin here is on a curveball
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Top of the 1st
I was always a fan of the late actor Raymond Burr, particularly in his role of “Perry Mason.” Burr as Mason to make a point would breath through his nose, smack his lips and in a delivery that resembled sleep apnea would point out to prosecuting attorney Hamilton Burger (I always thought it was funny that he was “Ham Burger”) that his client was innocent. And, of course he was always correct. And with a slight smile, Perry would move on to Della Street (actress Barbara Hale) and his next case.
But Burr’s role in “Perry Mason” is not why I am thinking of him this morning. It was a movie role that has me thinking of Burr. At the start of the movie, Burr as “Steve Martin” (never a wild and crazy guy) intoned (definition: “To utter in a monotone”) the opening voice over, “This is Tokyo. Once a city of six million people. What has happened here was caused by a force which up until a few days ago was entirely beyond the scope of Man’s imagination. Tokyo, a smoldering memorial to the unknown, an unknown which at this very moment still prevails and could at any time lash out with its terrible destruction anywhere else in the world. There were once many people here who could’ve told of what they saw…now there are only a few. My name is Steve Martin. I am a foreign correspondent for United World News. I was headed for an assignment in Cairo, when I stopped off in Japan for a social call; but it turned out to be a visit to the living HELL of another world.”
That movie was the 1956 classic, “Godzilla” (the remake with Mathew Broderick was pretty much a sitcom). By 1974, Godzilla had become a cottage industry. The sequels to that point included: Godzilla’s Counterattack, King Kong vs. Godzilla, Mothra Against Godzilla, Three Giant Monsters Greatest Battle On Earth, Great Monster War, Godzilla, Ebirah, Mothra: Big Duel In The South Sea, Monster Island’s Decisive Battle: Son of Godzilla, Attack Of The Marching Monsters, All Monsters Attack, Godzilla vs. Hedorah, Earth Destruction Directive: Godzilla Against Gigan, Godzilla vs. Megalon, and Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla (there were many more sequels to come).
For our purposes, the great spawn occurred on June 12th, 1974, when Hideki “Godzilla” Matsui was born. Matsui’s mother had been a star volleyball player in her school days–the daughter of a kendo expert and younger sister of a third-degree black-belt holder in aikido. Hideki earned a first-degree black belt in judo and won a citywide sumo tournament (for skinnies, I presume).
You get the feeling that in his crib (not the vernacular, the actual) Matsui was a hitting machine. As an elementary school student, Matsui was a right-handed batter but as he began to embarrass his older brother and friends with his skills, they forced him to bat left-handed. Matsui bats lefty to this day.
At Seiryo High School in Kanazawa, Matsui was first nicknamed “Godzilla” both for his huge homers and his severe case of adolescent acne (the movie monster has a bad skin problem). It is said that Hideki once slammed a batting practice pitch that cracked the tiles on the roof of the Seiryo manager’s house, nearly 140 meters away (459.317585 feet). Matsui made four appearances in the National High School Baseball Championship, and in his final game of the tournament he was intentionally walked five times.
His stoic, impassive behavior during those at bats drew great praise from tournament officials and reporters alike. Matsui himself credited his restraint to a severe public slapping he had received from his junior high school coach for throwing a bat in anger at an opposing pitcher who had similarly refused to challenge him. “It was a valuable lesson for me,” he said. “From that day on, I resolved never to lose control of my emotions in a game again.”
You might recall that before joining the New York Yankees, Matsui was a beloved nine-time All-Star for the legendary Yomiuri Giants. For nine years, the 1.86-meter, 95-kilogram Matsui never missed a game for the Giants, playing 1,250 consecutive games (the second longest streak in Japan). Matsui, would swing the bat as many as 800 times in batting practice sessions. In his last season with the Giants he hit 50 home runs and batted .334 with 107 runs batted in, leading the Giants to a successful sweep of the Seibu Lions in the Japan Series, the team’s third Japan Championship in the Matsui era. In his career in Japan, he won three Most Valuable Player awards, three home-run crowns and a batting title, while hitting 322 home runs. He also saw his annual salary rise to nearly $5 million a year, a figure that was then doubled by bonuses and endorsement fees.
But Matsui wanted the challenge of the Major Leagues.
In a tear filled press conference, Matsui apologized profusely to team management, teammates and the fans and announced he was leaving Japan. He said: “I hope people don’t think I’m a traitor.” They didn’t. Their feelings were summed up by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi who told TV reporters, “It’s sad he won’t be at the stadiums in our country any more, but on the other hand, more and more Japanese sportsmen are making their mark on the world stage. I think that is admirable.”
We have followed Matsui’s career with admiration as he patrolled left field in Yankee Stadium. By the time Matsui broke the radius bone in his wrist trying to make a diving catch on a 1st inning fly ball hit by Boston’s Mark Loretta in a New York Yankees’ loss to the Boston Red Sox (no surprise there that the effort took place against the Sox) on May 11, his consecutive games played streak that dated back to August 1993 and included 1,250 games with the Yomiuri Giants in Japan and 518 with the Yankees.
Immediately following surgery, Hideki Matsui apologized for getting hurt. “Due to this injury, I feel very sorry and, at the same time, very disappointed to have let my teammates down,” said Matsui who also praised his manager. “I would like to thank Joe Torre from the bottom of my heart for having been considerate of my consecutive games played streak these past several years and for placing me in the lineup every day,” he said.
Yankees manager Joe Torre spoke with Matsui and wasn’t surprised by the apology.
“It’s all about responsibility — what he thinks his responsibility is to this team, this organization, because the Yankees committed to him and he feels it’s a two-way street in that regard,” Torre said. “He’s done that before here, where he’s made an error, he’s come up and apologized to me.”
News of the broken wrist led Japan’s morning and evening news. ”Fans gasp over the broken bone,” the Mainichi Shimbun’s headline read. ”His professionalism amplifies the shock.” Hiroshi Kanda, a reporter for Kyodo News, said, ”No other player’s broken wrist would be front page news.”
The last line of Matsui’s statement in that news conference five days following surgery was, “I will do my best to fully recover and return to the field to help my team once again.”
Last night was that night, exactly four months after he went on the disabled list. Returning as the Yankee DH and batting eighth in the lineup, Matsui was greeted with fans standing and cheering. “When I got to the plate, I never even imagined I would receive such an ovation,” he said through a translator. “I felt nothing but appreciation.”
Matsui went 4-for-4 with a walk, matching his major league high for hits in a game in New York’s 12-4 win over Tampa Bay. “His ability to play under pressure is something you can’t teach,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said.
“I never thought I’d have four hits,” he said. “I was pleasantly surprised.” He also doffed his helmet — slightly — after his fourth hit.
“I really didn’t want to make a big deal out of it,” he said. “I don’t want to disrespect my teammates.” Sounds just like Perry Mason to me.
Top of the 2nd
DODGERS LEAD, DODGERS LOSE
Cesar Izturis singled home the winning run with two outs in the 11th against his former team last night as the Cubs overcame six errors and a 7-0 deficit to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, 9-8. Derek Lowe, looking for his 15th win, gave up seven hits and five runs in the 5th. He lasted five innings, allowing 10 hits and five runs before the Cubs tied it in the 7th against the Dodgers bullpen.
“Every game is important for us right now,” Dodgers manager Grady Little said. “You don’t like the thought of being up 7-0 and losing. That game was decided in the fifth, not the 11th.”
The Dodgers remain 1