Tang Ben Forum
PRIDE OF THE YANKEES
sports-happy, globe-oblivious country of UnitedStates, probably more
people know who Hideki Matsui is than who Junichiro
The former is the star
left fielder of the New York Yankees baseball team. The latter is only
the prime minister of Japan. But for a shining few minutes late last week
in New York, you could very well make the case that Matsui was the most
important Japanese celebrity in the world.
situation was this. It was early in a feral game against the hated Boston
Red Sox baseball club. A sharp line drive was slammed into left field in
the general direction of Matsui. An excellent fielder as well as batter, a
Yankee star and a baseball superstar in Japan, Matsui charged the liner
without fear, lunged for it, fell to the ground and rolled over onto his
left wrist and arm.
The capacity crowd at
historic Yankee Stadium in the Bronx gasped at the sight of the fallen
warrior on the ground unable to move because the pain was so great. The
team doctor and teammates ran to his aid, but nothing could be done. The
arm was broken, the star had to leave the game, the recovery period is
said to require months.
But here is where Matsui
exceeded his greatness as individual player with great dignity as a human
being and as a team player. In the age of the coddled athlete, the widely
overpaid athlete, the agent-protected athlete, and the totally obnoxious
superstar athlete, Matsui from Japan did something that hardly anyone
could remember another athlete doing in a long time.
He publicly apologized to
his manager for the injury that would keep him out of the team’s lineup
indefinitely, and he apologized to his fellow players for having to
withdraw from the front lines of the battle to
allow his broken left wrist to heal back together.
The apology was so
unusual and unexpected and uncharacteristic, it became a major news story
in the American media. The New York Times devoted a major feature to the
Matsui apology. Countless news organizations picked up the story for the
astonishing if almost unprecedented development that it represented: a
superstar athlete and celebrity actually and sincerely saying he was
Apologies are as rare in
the United States as they may be unexceptional in Japan. In this country
even major newspapers fail to apologize to a citizen who has clearly been
wronged by a story. To date, nearly 2,500 Americans have died in the Iraq
war (and who knows how many Iraqis) and nothing remotely close to an
apology has been issued by the perpetrators of this unnecessary calamity.
In Los Angeles a driver on a cell phone will drift mentally off into Mars,
make a serious life-endangering driving error, cause a multi-car pileup,
and will you hear an apology? More likely you’ll hear first from his
lawyer or his insurance company.
against this stony-faced culture of arrogance that the Matsui “I’m sorry"
rang across America like the ringing of some new liberty bell, freeing us
from a culture of smugness. Unprompted by media advisors, unforced by
barristers, it offered the feeling of sincerity and of coming deep from
baseball lore, few phrases or gestures are memorable enough to last longer
than the next newspaper edition. Perhaps the most famous gesture of all
time is Yankee slugger-of-history Babe Ruth’s alleged gesture to the
bleachers right before hitting one more or less exactly there. Another is
Lou Gehrig’s famous “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the
earth" phrase memorably delivered in Yankee Stadium during a ceremony
saluting the great player’s struggle against a fatal disease.
probably will not go down in history to quite that
degree of gravity. But to this ear it was memorable. Like Ruth or Gehrig
before him, Matsui, the happy but humble warrior from Japan, gave a public
and moving demonstration that reflected the pride of a Yankee.
UCLA Prof. Tom Plate, a member of the Pacific Council on International
Policy, is a veteran American journalist.
Distributed by the UCLA Media Center