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Original Issue

Are You Experienced? Two SI writers debate whether Hideki Matsui should be considered a rookie


It's likely that for the third time in four years, a seasoned
Japanese pro will be named AL Rookie of the Year. That trend must
cease. A 29-year-old like Hideki Matsui of the Yankees shouldn't
be eligible for this award, not because he's foreign-born but
because he's no rookie. The award should honor a fresh-faced bolt
from the blue, not an experienced outfielder who just happened to
get his experience overseas. Matsui's season (.286, 16 home runs,
99 RBIs through Sunday) has been solid, but was it really
unexpected? He's a 10-year veteran--and a three-time MVP--of the
Japanese leagues.

The NHL, which has a substantial international population, put an
age cap (26) on candidates for its award. A restriction along
those lines--or, say, a maximum of five seasons in any country's
top pro league--seems appropriate. Putting a kid one year removed
from Class A ball, like the Devil Rays' graceful centerfielder,
Rocco Baldelli, into competition with a veteran like Matsui is
unfair. Matsui is a dependable hitter and an excellent bet to
enjoy a productive career. But calling him a rookie is
preposterous. --Daniel G. Habib


What would Jackie say? The illogic of excluding some first-year
players from receiving the Jackie Robinson Award, which is
annually bestowed upon the top rookie in each league, should be
obvious. Robinson, the top major league rookie in 1947, played in
the Negro leagues before he became the symbol of baseball's
effort to become inclusive. That effort should be irreversible
but is lost on those who wish to bar Japanese players from rookie

The quality of major league baseball is a cut above all other
leagues; to deny Hideki Matsui rookie status is to deny that
fact. And where would exclusionists draw the line? Do you bar an
older player from the Mexican league? How about one from the even
less formidable Korean league?

The keep-'em-off-the-ballot lobby was silent in May, when Matsui
was grounding out to second four times a night and considered a
bust. And why no outcry to keep bench-riding Cardinals outfielder
So Taguchi from NL honors? They are proof that nothing is
guaranteed to any Japanese player when he changes country and
culture--even the baseballs are different. Matsui has earned his
success and whatever hardware comes with it. --Tom Verducci

COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON (MATSUI) AGEISM Matsui has a 10-year head start on some rookies.