For four hours and 43 minutes Wednesday afternoon, Red Sox fans from Portland to Providence plotted out the flight plan of the private jet of Red Sox principal owner John Henry as it made its way from John Wayne Airport in southern California to a small private airport outside of Boston. On board was a valuable commodity, although not quite as valuable as it turned out as his agent, Scott Boras, would have liked.
When the plane finally landed, local television stations broke into their regularly scheduled programming to show the plane sitting on the tarmac, flashing lights from state police cruisers illuminating it in an odd light. It looked like a re-run of "Raid on Entebbe.''
Eventually the plane's door swung open and the Red Sox newest pitcher, Daisuke Matsuzaka, emerged. He did not look like Smokey Joe Wood.
He did not look like Roger Clemens. He did not look like Pedro Martinez.
He looked like an exchange student from Tokyo on a bad hair day, a backpack strapped to his shoulders and a grin on his face. And why shouldn't he be grinning?
Matsuzaka had just beaten the dealer. He was rumored to have agreed to a six-year, $52 million contract with escalators that could take it as high as $60 million to make his major league debut for the Sox. For a guy who wasn't a free agent and who had never thrown a single pitch in the major leagues, it seemed like a pretty good deal. Unless your name was Scott Boras. Or Theo Epstein. Then it was a disappointment to one and a grave danger to the other.
The feared uber-agent insisted Matsuzaka was worth $100 million himself, an argument Epstein and the Red Sox tried to counter by insisting Matsuzaka's $51.1 million posting charge to the Seibu Lions for the exclusive rights to negotiate with Matsuzaka for 30 days should be included in his asking price even though he was not to receive a penny of it. Boras dismissed the idea, but at some point Tuesday night he realized the Red Sox were ready to fly home with or without his client and his client was ready to fly to Boston with or without his agent if a deal wasn't made.
Dice-K Madness abounds now throughout New England and that hysteria, perhaps more than any doubts about the strength of his right arm or the liveliness of his stuff, has some people fretting because Dice-K, it is said, is a "sensitive guy.'' You can be many things in Boston and survive but not a "sensitive guy.'' Better you be a deaf guy. Or a boorish guy. Or Manny Ramierz, for that matter. Those things work. Sensitive guys do not work there for long.
In addition, the mercurial Manny has long complained about a loss of privacy in the Sox clubhouse. He has regularly asked to be traded — including during this offseason — because of the fishbowl atmosphere in Boston. Now he's in a place where 40 or more Japanese journalists and TV reporters will be tailing his newest teammate every day in every way. Manny being Manny may not sit well these days with Red Sox management but Matsuzaka being Matsuzaka surely won't sit well with Manny, a problem Epstein may not have considered as this process expanded.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
What happens if he doesn't quite live up to the money and the hype?
What happens if his fascination with high heat leads to the kind of home run barrages his new teammate Josh Beckett suffered through a year ago?
What happens then to a "sensitive guy'' who is now an overpaid sensitive guy? Can you say tight tonsil time, boys and girls?
Considering all that, in the end, was this a good deal for the Red Sox? Was Matsuzaka a bargain at a guaranteed $52 million for the next six years? Or was this a deadly gamble by Theo Epstein, the boy genius who used to insist these kind of hires were not the way to build a team?
Time will tell, but the history of Japanese pitchers in the major leagues is not good. If Daisuka Matsuzaka continues that tradition, the future of Theo Epstein won't be either.
DPS: MLB executive Joe Torre talks to Dan Patrick about instant replay in baseball. Torre says that the game isn't perfect, but there are limits as to what instant replay should be used for. He draws the line at using it for balls and strikes.
Red Sox welcome Matsuzaka
Dec. 14: Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein introduces Japanese ace pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka at a news conference in Boston.
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