Someone's going to write an excellent Daisuke Matsuzaka piece one of these days. It will include a look back on his disappointments and successes. It will go into detail on how his training regimen differs from the one his employer wishes he would adopt. It will collect first-hand reports, not anonymous ones, from Matsuzaka observers here in Boston, in and around Scott Boras Corp, in Japan and everywhere else that might matter in between. The report could even sprinkle some opinion in there as well. It would acknowledge nuance and complexity, and it would belong in a publication like the New Yorker but if the ProJo or Herald or Globe were smart, they'd get on it now. Until we see that article, we will get lazy hit jobs on a man far from his home who, no matter how wealthy, is presently down and out. Jeff Passan wrote the most notable such column to date on May 30th.
There are three key problems with the piece. First, Passan has not done the work to write with the kind of venom that characterizes the article's tone. Second, the absolution of Boston's front office for signing Matsuzaka is so brazen, he might as well have published the "give me scoops Theo xoxo" note we can only assume made its way to 4 Yawkey Way after Passan decided to go with this tripe. Finally, it rambles. Dice is stubborn, lazy, fat, pitches inconsistently, was a part of some great teams, the Red Sox hate him, if he did things the Red Sox wanted none of this would have happened, etc, etc. It's hard to say what Passan's trying to tell us here other than Daisuke is fat, a bad person, an underachiever, and the Red Sox could never have known it.
After acknowledging Matsuzaka's extensive arm troubles, Passan writes, "The only thing left is his hand, and as many times as he's raised a figurative middle finger at the organization, it's a shock he hasn't hurt that, too." He continues, "Matsuzaka's tack with the Red Sox, according to sources inside and outside the organization, has been simple: Ignore what they want and do what he wants." Passan has sources he can't name that assert Matsuzaka doesn't do what the Red Sox want and then in the very next sentence, his one on-the-record quote of the whole column, Passan notes that Terry Francona says that "Dice has been very good about this." OK then.
Passan wants us to believe right off the bat that the Red Sox are not happy with Matsuzaka. It might be true, too, but as noted above, Passan didn't do the work. There's not a single specific example of Matsuzaka failing to comport with Red Sox protocols aside from a passing reference to the pitcher's throwing program in Japan. An assertion so cavalier would be fine in a quick piece offering some backstory of the Red Sox-Dice saga but if you're going to bring the big guns the way Passan has attempted to in this piece, again, you have to do the work.
An even more brazen manifestation of Passan's laziness reveals itself in the way he connects the dots between Matsuzaka's arm troubles and his refusal to do things Boston's way. Daisuke is hurt, he does not participate in the Red Sox off-the-field routine, therefore Daisuke is hurt because he does not participate in the Red Sox off-the-field routine is the logic Passan offers in determining how Matsuzaka's habits off the field impact his ability to stay and pitch effectively on it. We don't get a single quote from a current or former Red Sox employee on the record, nothing from a physician with expertise in the area, nothing at all. I mean Will Carroll's available, right? We are to take Passan's word that Matsuzaka refuses to do the things the Red Sox want him to do, and that this refusal is the very reason for his injury problems.
The reason he takes this approach, of course, is that short of this charge, Passan's got nothing. It's the foundation of the entire hit job. If Matsuzaka is just hurt and under-performing, then where's Passan's piece crushing Carlos Lee or Johan Santana or Alfonso Soriano or Vernon Wells? It's nowhere because Passan didn't feel like going after those guys. It's why he acknowledges that Barry Zito is overpaid too, but Zito's nice to the Giants so he's cool. Passan needs Matsuzaka's defiance in order for the story to be publishable. Problem is, he forgot to evidence it. In this context, the one where all over Major League Baseball unrestricted free agents fail to live up to their paychecks due to injury and inconsistency, it reads like Passan wanted to kick the Japanese guy while he was down.
Hanging over the entire column is a single question begging to be asked that Passan willfully ignores, and it only serves to heighten the sense that he's destroying Daisuke for the sake of it. Why did the Red Sox sign Matsuzaka if he had all of these shortcomings? If Matsuzaka had a throwing routine he was devoted to, shouldn't the Red Sox have known as much? Injuries aside, If Matsuzaka has so badly underperformed his contract because his pitch repertoire is too extensive and his command and control issues limit his effectiveness and consistency, why didn't the Red Sox anticipate as much? Nobody forced the Red Sox to commit as much money as they did.
Every team misses on players so it's not like it would even be all that interesting to review why the Red Sox decided to pursue Matsuzaka. And it wasn't just Boston. Dice was as expensive as he was because there was a robust market for him. But if Passan wants credibility when he crushes the Japanese righty on the basis that the Red Sox are unhappy with him, then he'd better acknowledge that Boston's unhappiness amounts to an implicit admission that they erred badly in signing Matsuzaka. But there's not a single word devoted to the notion that Boston made a mistake.
The most unfortunate aspect of the article, though, is the meanness of Passan's tone. Here's the worst of it:
When Boston dropped a $51.1 million bid for the rights to negotiate with Matsuzaka, then in late 2006 handed him a six-year, $52 million contract, they expected an ace. They got an ACE: Another Chubby Easterner, Hideki Irabu 2.0, a disappointment, a waste of money.
On how many fronts is this just completely unacceptable? For one, the acronym sucks so bad you just feel for Passan since you know he couldn't contain his self-satisfaction when he came up with it. Worse than the crappy writing, though, what does Matsuzaka's body type or ethnicity have to do with his pitching? Invoking both adds nothing to the story, other than to give us a glimpse into why Passan might have written it. It's easy to go after the non-English speaking guy whose career, once full of promise, is now in jeopardy. Whether Matsuzaka is a sympathetic figure or not is up for debate but I'm positive he deserves better than "Another Chubby Easterner."
There are a series of facts about Matsuzaka that form the foundation of a great story. He came with great, overwhelming fanfare. He was a useful turn-taker for a championship-caliber club. He was often injured. He frustrated both his fans and employer. He did things his way, according to Passan to spurn the Red Sox but I think it's more likely due to cultural differences. And there's the rub: after a thousand Passan words, we still don't know. The article Passan penned demanded more work, more reporting, and if in the end it turned out Matsuzaka's health and performance issues resulted from hard-headedness or a lacking work ethic, then it would have been reasonable to go after his character the way Passan chose to ("ACE" aside. That has no place regardless). As it stands now, all we know is that Jeff Passan's a bully.