According to some media outlets, Hideki Matsui reached a milestone last week with his 500th career home run. The outfielder for the Oakland A’s did it with a shot off Detroit Tigers starter Duane Below on July 21, but you might have missed the news.
That’s because it was just his 168th in the major leagues, but combined with the 332 in his Japanese career, he reached the 500 milestone.
For numerous reasons, it’s unfair to combine those careers. And none of them has anything to do with whether the Japanese leagues are inferior to the major leagues in the United States. I’m not qualified to judge that, so I will leave that out.
There is no doubt he’s a talented player, even an above-average major-leaguer. He has lasted nine years in the majors, with a .285 career batting average. He has hit better than .300 twice, with other seasons at .298 and .294. His season high in home runs is 31 so he has some power. He was MVP of the 2009 World Series in helping the New York Yankees win their 27th title.
But let’s not get too crazy here. You can’t combine the two. If you did, then here are some other questions that might arise:
- Is Japanese great Sadaharu Oh the new home run king? He hit well more than 800 homers in his career. Does he replace Barry Bonds? (Wait a minute, that might not be a bad idea.) While Oh never played for a major-league team in the U.S., you would have to include him if you are going to include Matsui’s stats from Japan.
- What about all the other Japanese players? Will you include all their stats also? The first who comes to mind is Ichiro Suzuki. In nine seasons in Japan, he amassed 1,278 hits. Combined with his more than 2,350 hits in the U.S., is he closing in on Peter Rose’s career record?
- What about the American players who go to Japan to play? You would have to include the stats for those players, too.
- What about the players who have come from Cuba’s professional ranks? Those players count.
- According to Baseball Almanac, players from more than 45 countries have made it to the major-league level in the United States. Let’s count those stats, too.
- What about adding the stats from the Negro Leagues?
- Since we are talking about professional baseball, why make the distinction between the majors and the minors, at all? Let’s count all professional statistics.
I could go on and on, and again, it’s not intended as a knock on the leagues from other countries. In this day and age, some of those leagues might be comparable or, in some ways, better than ours. However, I don’t think it’s fair to combine the two.
Matsui has had two great careers — one in Japan and one in the United States. His 500 career home runs are a great accomplishment, but not a milestone. More like a footnote.