It’s not a stretch to say that no sport has been impacted more by the power of the Internet by baseball. From the rise of cross-country sabermetrics to the proliferation of blogs and smarter analysis than that offered by local papers and sports talk radio to institutions such as MLB.com that have revolutionized online content delivery, baseball has spent the last ten years living through its own golden age of the Internet.
It was, then, only a matter of time before agents started taking their appeals for their players to the digital airwaves. Scott Boras’ player profile binders may be legendary amongst baseball executives and fans, but the truly savvy agents will tap into the Internet to generate populist pressure in support of their clients. By utilizing this still-developing medium, agents can change the tenor of the conversation over free agents.
Yesterday, we saw how Johnny Damon and Scott Boras are not quite on the same page regarding Damon’s free agency. The Yanks’ left fielder wants to stay in the Bronx while Boras wants him to get market value and a longer deal than the one Brian Cashman will offer. In all senses, the Damon/Boras conflict is a fairly traditional player/agent fight, and the Damon negotiations are going to be fairly routine.
But Arn Tellem, Hideki Matsui’s agent, seems willing to push the boundaries of this Internet Age. In what I can only assume is a first for an agent, Tellem has taken his defense of Matsui online. He published an article on the Huffington Post explaining why Hideki Matsui is a sound investment. With one bit of hyperbole and otherwise astute observations, Tellem’s piece is an excellent primer in making your case.
First, the hyperbole: Tellem calls Matsui “an ageless talent.” At age 35 and with creaky knees, Matsui certainly is showing his age, but he can still hit. If that’s Tellem’s worst exaggeration, it’s an understandable one.
In discussing Matsui, Tellem engages in some fanciful writing too. “By embracing Matsui,” he says, “New Yorkers have once again shown that though ball clubs are named for cities and states, they transcend geography. Teams may not be where we find our heroes today, but, as Matsui has demonstrated, it’s where we find heroic situations we can all dream of, argue about or simply watch together in amazement. That’s the game’s unifying force.” Hey, I buy it.
It gets better though:
As his agent, I take a different view. The ageless Matsui has shown not just that he can still hit, but that he can hit with consistency and aplomb. During the regular season, he ranked second among DHs in homers, and third in slugging percentage, on-base percentage and walks. No left-handed hitter homered more off southpaws. Matsui combines the late-inning heroics of Yankees great Tommy (Old Reliable) Henrich and the superb professionalism of Paul O’Neill. He’s a complete player who always has taken pride in contributing to all facets of the game.
Matsui’s immense popularity in Japan gives the Yanks strong financial incentive to re-sign him. He helps bring in millions of dollars annually in marketing and sponsorship revenue. In the seven years since he joined the Bronx Bombers, Matsui has played a pivotal role in establishing the Yankees as a global brand. Six major Japanese companies — including Toyota, Sony and the Daily Yomiuri newspaper — have signed on as advertisers, each reportedly adding $1 million or so a year to team coffers. Most of these firms have placed their billboards in right field, often the final resting ground of Godzilla’s monstrous clouts, to target the audience of NHK, the Japanese radio and television network. Currently, NHK airs 120 Yankee games a season.
It’s not a stretch to say Matsui is as responsible for Japanese interest in the Yankees as Yao Ming is for the NBA in China. Matsui has yet another virtue that goes beyond mere statistics. In an age when athletes mock our reverence daily, he’s exemplary in every aspect of his life. In January of 2003, his very first request upon landing in New York was to be taken to the Twin Towers memorial to pay his respects. He did this without publicity or fanfare. He did it because, he said, it was “the right thing to do.” After the tsunami hit Indonesia at the end of 2005, Matsui, out his own sense of decency, donated $500,000 to UNICEF. He’s one of those rare superstars who recognize the unique role his astonishing talent has given him and the good he can do for others.
That’s a brilliant first shot by Matsui’s agent. He makes his statistical argument, his economic argument, and his all-around good-guy argument in 350 words.
Right now, we don’t know what the immediate future holds for Matsui. Talks with the Yanks are on hold until the organization has a chance to meet, and although rumors about the Red Sox’s interest surfaced yesterday, it’s hard to believe that Theo Epstein would do anything but drive up Matsui’s price. Reportedly, the Sox would eye Matsui as a regular left fielder, but it’s hardly a secret that Matsui’s knees can’t take the pounding.
And so we wait with the words of Arn Tellem out there for anyone to see. Matsui, he says, “loves New York,” and the Yanks will have “‘a special place’ in his heart.” How ever does a GM respond to such a blatantly public and emotional appeal for support just one week after the free agent-to-be took home World Series MVP honors?