Hideki Matsui isn’t the only one impressed by the rare skill set of countryman Shohei Ohtani, the coveted potential free agent who’s been called the “Babe Ruth of Japan.”
“I’ve never seen a player in the majors have success as both a pitcher and a hitter,” the former Yankees outfielder told reporters through a translator after hosting a youth baseball clinic at the Columbia University athletic complex.
Most living people haven’t, either. The last player to start 15 games on the mound and 15 at a position was the Babe himself, back in 1919. But after an MVP season in Japan’s Pacific League, in which he pitched to a 3.20 ERA and hit .322 at the plate, the 23-year-old intends to bring his two-way play to the majors next year.
Matsui’s former ballclub in the Bronx is widely considered one of his likely landing spots. Should they let him do both?
“If that’s something he wants to do and the team allows it,” said the 2009 World Series MVP, “then why not?”
Matsui, known as Godzilla during his 10-year career in pinstripes, might play a part in recruiting the phenom to the Bronx. The two-time All-Star has been a special assistant to general manager Brian Cashman since 2015.
“If the Yankees approach me and ask me to get involved in some way, I am an employee of the Yankees,” he said. “It would be my duty and responsibility to get involved in some ways.”
Ohtani has less than nine years service time with his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, so they retain his rights. That means he must go through the posting system to leave for the majors. If MLB, the players association and Nippon Professional Baseball agree to extend the expiring posting system to this offseason, the team he signs with will have to pay Ohtani’s former team $20 million and can only offer a maximum salary of $3,535,000.
Whenever the situation sorts itself out, count Matsui among those excited to see how Ohtani performs stateside.
“As a baseball fan, I’m looking forward to seeing how he does here at the major league level in America,” Matsui said.