Valentine has come
back to New York City. The Japanese Chamber of Commerce is honoring him with
its Eagle on the World Award, given annually to prominent figures who further
Japanese-American relations. The other honorees are former Deputy Secretary of
State Dick Armitage and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi. The awards
presentation is at the New York Hilton in midtown Manhattan. It is a swank
affair: black tie, filet mignon, stylish Japanese women on the arms of powerful
executives from companies such as Sony, Panasonic and Sumitomo. A popular
Japanese singer, Yosunake, opens the evening with a couple of rousing numbers
in his native tongue, then finishes by singing New York, New York decked out in
a glittering sequined floor-length coat.
introduced. "In Japan he's taken the status of rock star," the host
says. "He not only raised the status of baseball to rival that of the
United States, but he's a master of human chemistry." Valentine nods at the
compliment, takes the stage, makes a couple jokes in Japanese and opens with
the anecdote about being the only person to manage in the AL, NL and Japanese
pro ball and also be fired in all three leagues. He thanks the crowd, then
addresses the subject of Matsuzaka. Only 24 hours earlier the Red Sox
successfully bid $51.1 million for the right to negotiate a big league contract
"Here, the day
after the great 26-year-old pitcher Matsuzaka, from the Seibu Lions, took that
bridge that I'm trying to build--he took that bridge over to play in the United
States--I have to say that I have very mixed feelings," Valentine says.
"One is the joy, for him, his family and my team, because he won't pitch
against us again. But also one of sadness and disappointment in the
professional league of Japanese baseball for allowing him, a great national
treasure, to in fact leave their league. I think that this audience here, which
is building many bridges of commerce and industry between two of the greatest
economic countries in the world, must be reminded at this time that Japan has a
sport that is their national sport. There are 150 million people there and the
true national sport is baseball, the only industrialized country in the world
that the national sport is baseball."
to let his words sink in before he resumes. "And that in itself is a great
resource. And it should be looked at as something that should be treasured and
kept and cherished and cultivated and nourished, just as your companies are
developing and growing. And the same type of synergy that's in this room should
be involved in making Japanese baseball a world power. Not only on the field,
because the players can play, but also in the front office and the ownership
level so that the players can be paid what they should be paid and stay in
Japan to keep that league as strong as it can possibly be, so that my dream of
a true World Series will in fact come true in the very near future."
The crowd cheers
politely, but the real audience for Valentine's comments, the world baseball
community, does not hear them. Despite the event's location in New York City, I
am the only member of the U.S. media present.
So Valentine slips
off into the night, neither harassed nor feted in his home country. All of the
major league managerial openings have been filled. As a result Valentine will
spend the 2007 season, which began on March 24, as the Marines' manager, an
increasingly invisible figure to baseball fans in America. Perhaps it is the
price he must pay for his nearly perfect life in Japan. Since Japanese baseball
is not considered world-class, his accomplishments there do not carry much
weight at home, and since the best Japanese players keep leaving for the
States, he cannot make Japanese baseball world-class, no matter how many
bridges he builds or box lunches he sells.
Valentine remains stranded somewhere in the middle of his own bridge, a man
caught between two worlds, a hero in the wrong country.