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 honors.
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.