Saturday, July 22, 2006

Jim Souhan, Twins reporter, loves the publicity he'd otherwise never get, 2003

Jim Souhan is a local writer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and is frequently on Twins telecasts. Jim Souhan responded to "King George"s comments, and stood his ground.

Baseball Insider: Steinbrenner ire affirms writer's vote
Jim Souhan, Star Tribune

Published November 12, 2003 INSI12

If I had doubts about leaving Hideki Matsui off my American League rookie of the year ballot, they were assuaged at 2:20 p.m. Tuesday, when New York Post reporter George King left this message on my voice mail.

"You have just been ripped by George Steinbrenner," he said. "Welcome to the fraternity."

Steinbrenner, the Yankees' imperialistic owner, criticized my decision to vote for Royals shortstop Angel Berroa, Indians outfielder Jody Gerut and Devil Rays outfielder Rocco Baldelli for AL rookie of the year, eschewing Matsui.

Now I am sure of what, before, I could only suspect: A conscience knows no greater comfort than Steinbrenner's opposition.

Little did I know in September that my vote would place me in the same company as Steinbrenner whipping boys Joe Torre, Billy Martin, Yogi Berra, Reggie Jackson, Don Zimmer, Mel Stottlemyre and Dave Winfield.

Yep, Winny and me -- the former Mr. May and the new Mr. November. I have never been, nor will ever be, closer to the Hall of Fame.

Steinbrenner believes Matsui was the league's outstanding rookie.

I believe he was neither.

Had I considered Matsui a rookie, I'm not sure where I would have placed him on the ballot. Maybe second. Maybe third. Maybe not.

Considering Matsui's nickname (Godzilla) and reputation, I found him to be a savvy but overrated player. His most impressive statistic -- RBI -- was as much a function of his presence in the middle of a remarkably productive lineup as his hitting.

He seemed like a pro. He seemed like a good guy. But a rookie? Sure, kind of like that political pinch hitter, Walter Mondale.

The crux of the arguments I've seen against my decision is that Matsui is considered a rookie by Major League Baseball, so I was compelled to consider him one.

I'm sorry. You can tell me Madonna is like a virgin, that the Metrodome is a baseball stadium, that computers are built by extremely intelligent people, but I'm entitled to employ common sense. To consider the likes of Matsui, Ichiro Suzuki, Kaz Sasaki, Shigetoshi Hasegawa or Hideo Nomo a rookie would be to insult all of Japanese baseball.

I've heard I should compare Matsui to Jackie Robinson, after whom the rookie of the year award is named.

Please. Robinson emerged from a league that should have been considered "major" -- but we all know it wasn't at the time, which is why Robinson's play and comportment were so crucial to breaking the race barrier.

Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers as a prospect, earned a promotion from the minor leagues, then proved himself under the most difficult circumstances at the major league level while being treated like a rookie in terms of pay and status.

Matsui already had proved a dominant player at what I believe is a high-level professional league, already had earned millions and become a star before becoming the focus of an international bidding war that, of course, George won.

My vote will probably make East Coast baseball fans think the Star Tribune is the Bermuda Triangle of postseason awards. And that might be about right.

In 1999, Star Tribune writer La Velle E. Neal III, my friend and colleague, was one of two writers to leave Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez off his MVP ballot, ensuring that Texas catcher Ivan Rodriguez would win the award.

I disagreed with that decision. While I believe everyday players are generally more valuable than once-every-five-day pitchers, I thought that, in 1999, Martinez proved himself a worthy exception.

When I left Matsui off my ballot, I didn't intend to create a debate on whether international stars should qualify for the rookie of the year award. But it should.

In any case, Steinbrenner on Tuesday rewarded me for my decision. His criticism qualified me for the pantheon -- the roster of all-time greats who have incurred the wrath of George.

Luckily, he's no more effective accosting baseball writers than beating semi-retired 72-year-old managers.

bake mcbride
01-18-2004, 10:45 AM
While I have to agree that the experience players like Ichiro and Hideki Matsui receive in Japan leaves them far from rookie status, Major League Baseball considers them rookies in their first years in the bigs.

So, while I had no problem with Angel Berroa winning the Rookie of the Year title, it should have gone to Hideki Matsui.

MLB considered him a rookie and the writers don't have the choice to simply ignore that fact. Yes, Berroa had a terrific season and was certainly deserving of winning...if you leave Matsui out of the equation.

But, let's face it, he came in and had to adjust to an entirely different league. He didn't have the same success hitting for power as in Japan, so he made adjustments and still drove in over 100 runs in New York with those fans, that media and that owner watching his every move.

And, although the playoffs aren't considered...watching the Yankees in October, one thing was very clear: after Jeter, Matsui was the most reliable position player on that team. Not Bernie Baseball, not Giambi or Soriano, not even Posada (who should have been the AL MVP, by the way)-but Matsui.


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