No, Hideki Matsui is not a Hall of Famer

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This should probably go without saying, but no, Hideki Matsui is not a Hall of Famer.

There is some level of debate about this. Not because anyone truly thinks that Matsui’s ten seasons in the bigs were Hall of Fame-worthy. They clearly were not, even if they were pretty damn good (note: the go-to phrase for Matsui, which I have used myself, appears to be “a nice career” or a “damn nice career” or something like that).

Rather, to the extent anyone is making a Hall of Fame case for Matsui, they’re doing so by mashing together his NPB stats with his MLB stats. If you do that, sure, we’re a heck of a lot closer, for that gives him three MVP awards, three more championship rings to go with his 2009 World Series ring, 332 more home runs, 889 more RBIs and a streak of 1,250 consecutive games played (and he played every game for the Yankees in his first three seasons in the U.S.).  I’d say that is a Hall of Fame resume, indeed.

But the thing is, we just can’t do that. Both for official reasons and logical reasons.

Officially, the Hall of Fame takes the position that is a National Hall of Fame — that’s even the name of the place — meaning baseball accomplishments which took place in America. Indeed, aside from Negro League players, the Hall asks its voters to only consider accomplishments achieved in Major League Baseball. If it didn’t, statboys like me would be making Hall of Fame cases for Roberto Petagine and guys like that (and believe me, we would, for we crush hard on those kinds of guys).

But it makes logical sense to exclude NPB stats too: it’s simply not the same level of competition as we see in MLB. Most folks who pay close attention to these things consider to the Japanese leagues, at best, to be a 4-A kind of thing, and others believe it is more on par with Triple-A. If you don’t believe this just look at what has happened to most of the good Japanese hitters who have come to the U.S. Yes, there are success stories like Matsui and Ichiro, but there are far more flame outs. It’s just not the same hitting environment for these dudes.

I understand why a lot of people don’t simply dismiss the stats. Especially given that it has become fashionable to talk about Ichiro’s hit totals between the NPB and MLB when assessing his career (note: Ichiro, I feel, is a Hall of Famer based on his U.S. production alone, making this argument moot). But U.S. and Japanese baseball are two different beasts, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense to consider what Matsui or anyone else did in the NPB when making their Hall of Fame case.

Free agents who sign with new teams are not disloyal

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Most mornings my local newspaper is pretty predictable.

I know, when I navigate to its home page, that I’ll find about eleventeen stories about Ohio State football, even if it is not football season (especially if it’s not football season, actually), part 6 of an amazingly detailed 8-part investigation into a thing that is super important but which no one reads because it has nothing to do with Ohio State football and, perhaps, a handful of write-ups of stories that went viral online six days previously and have nothing to do with anything that matters.

Local print news is doing great, everyone.

I did, however, get a surprise this morning. A story about baseball! A baseball story that was not buried seven clicks into the sports section, but one that was surfaced onto the front page of the website!  The story was about Michael Brantley signing with the Astros.

Normally I’d be dead chuffed! But then I saw something which kinda irked me. Check out the headline:

Is Michael Brantley “leaving” the Indians? I don’t think so. He’s a free agent signing with a baseball team. He’s no more “leaving” the Indians than you are “leaving” an employer who laid you off to take a job at one of its competitors. This is especially true given that the Indians made no effort whatsoever to sign him. Indeed, they didn’t even give him a qualifying offer, making it very clear as of November 2 that they had no intention of bringing him back. Yet, there’s the headline: “Michael Brantley leaves Indians.”

To be clear, apart from the headline, the article is unobjectionable in any way. It merely recounts Ken Rosenthal’s report about Brantley signing with the Astros and does not make any claim or implication that Brantley was somehow disloyal or that Indians fans should be upset at him.

I do wish, though, that editors would not use this kind of construction, even in headlines, because even in today’s far more savvy and enlightened age, it encourages some bad and outmoded views of how players are expected to interact with teams.

Since the advent of free agency players have often been criticized as greedy or self-centered for signing contracts with new teams. Indeed, they are often cast as disloyal in some way for leaving the team which drafted or developed them. It’s less the case now than it used to be, but there are still a lot of fans who view a player leaving via free agency as some kind of a slap in the face, especially if he joins a rival. Meanwhile, when a team decides to move on from a player, either releasing him or, as was the case with the Indians and Brantley, making no effort to bring him back, it’s viewed as a perfectly defensible business decision. There was no comparable headline, back in early November, that said “Indians dump Brantley.”

Make no mistake: it may very well turn out to be a quite reasonable business decision for Cleveland to move on from Brantley. Maybe they know things about him we don’t. Maybe they simply know better about how he’ll do over the next year than the Astros do. I in no way intend for this little rant to imply that the Indians owed Brantley any more than he owed the Indians once their business arrangement came to an end. They don’t.

But I do suspect that there are still a decent number fans out there who view a free agent leaving his former team as some sort of betrayal. Maybe not Brantley, but what if Bryce Harper signs with the Phillies? What if Kris Bryant walks and joins the Cardinals when he reaches free agency? Fans may, in general, be more enlightened now than they used to be, but even a little time on talk radio or in comments sections reveals that a number of them view ballplayers exercising their bargained-for rights as “traitors.” Or, as it’s often written, “traders.” I don’t care for that whole dynamic.

Maybe this little Michael Brantley headline in a local paper that doesn’t cover all that much baseball is unimportant in the grand scheme of things, but it’s an example of how pervasive that unfortunate dynamic is. It gives fans, however tacitly, license to continue to think of players as bad people for exercising their rights. I don’t think that belief will ever completely disappear — sports and irrationality go hand-in-hand — but I’d prefer it if, like teams, athletes are likewise given an understanding nod when they make a business decision. The best way to ensure that is to make sure that such decisions are not misrepresented.