Will the Red Sox–Yankee Rivalry Spread to Japan?

Japundit‘s baseball columnist, Mike Plugh, offers some interesting speculation on some possible implications of Boston’s $50 million bid to talk with Japan’s top pitching ace, Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Should those plans fall through, what’s to stop the Red Sox from splashing on Ichiro. It would do two things. One, it would add an All-Star outfielder with a great bat, legs, and throwing arm. Two, it would permanently steal the Japanese spotlight from the Yankees, who are wildly famous and popular, and reposition it on the Red Sox. The Yankees would be famous, but the Red Sox would be Japan’s team. Theo Epstein knows this and I guarantee they are working on a plan to acquire Ichiro already. With Ichiro and Matsuzaka, the Sox would not only be good, they’ll be the most famous franchise in Japan. What kind of dollar figures can you put on that?

The flip side to that situation is that the Yankees know this too. The Yankees could use a centerfielder who hits, runs, and plays defense. Johnny Damon is good, and Melky Cabrera is up and coming, but let’s face it … Damon’s defense is in decline, and Melky is probably better suited to left. If the Yankees choose to counter the Matsuzaka move by spending huge on Ichiro, they will solidify their strong hold on Japan, and perhaps do so irreversibly. That goes double if the Yankees are able to land the Yomiuri Giants’ Koji Uehara in the same 2007 offseason. What is that worth to the Yankees?

In either case, the Red Sox and Yankees rivalry is now global. The frontlines are drawn and they extend all the way around the world. For fans who are already sick of the two teams, it’s more nausea. For Yankees and Red Sox fans, it’s more fuel to the belief that the world revolves around the ebb and flow of Boston against New York. For Mariners fans, it’s something to mourn. Unless Ichiro is so intensely loyal to Mr. Yamauchi, or intent on returning to Japan to end his career, the money that will be out there for him in a year’s time will make A-Rod’s deal look like pocket change.

Coverage of baseball on Japanese TV almost always starts off with footage of individual Japanese players in the U.S. majors—referred to in Japanese as the “Big” (大, Dai) Leagues—before turning to the state of play in Japan. This will only increase the number of Japanese ads in American ball parks.

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