Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

John Harvard's Journal

Gyroball Historian

January-February 2008

In the fall, the Tokyo publisher Asahi Shinsho released a new title in Japanese, loosely translated as The Unknown Story of Matsuzaka’s Major League Revolution, a 250-page paperback recounting the saga of star pitcher Daisuke (DICE-kay) Matsuzaka’s rookie year as a starting pitcher with the Boston Red Sox. The book follows Matsuzaka (and his mythical “gyroball” pitch) through the regular season month by month, with commentary on such topics as the globalization of baseball and how sports can build group pride. The author is Folger Fund professor of history (and avid baseball fan) Andrew Gordon ’74, Ph.D. ’81. Gordon is currently a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute, working on a book about the penetration of the sewing machine into Japanese society in the twentieth century. “I thought I’d venture into sportswriting,” he says. “A new thing.”

In November 2006, the Red Sox produced a 10-minute DVD expressly for Matsuzaka, as part of their campaign to woo him to the team. It featured Japanese relief pitcher Hideki Okajima, who had already signed with Boston, saying, “This is a great town” in Japanese. Gordon, who is fluent in Japanese after two years of study in college and several years of living in Japan, told the camera something similar in Japanese while standing in front of the John Harvard statue in the Yard. A Japanese book-editor friend of Gordon suggested writing the book, and threw in a press pass. “I’d have to write only 20 pages a month for six months,” Gordon says, “then do a wrap-up.”

He went to nearly all of Matsuzaka’s starts and the press conferences afterwards; Matsuzaka was very sparing with one-on-one interviews, and Gordon didn’t get such access, but he was able to speak with some senior Red Sox figures, including general manager Theo Epstein, and with pitching coach John Farrell, who was “very forthcoming.” Gordon already knew Matsuzaka’s translator Masa Hoshino ’02 (see "Crimson Intermediary," May-June 2007, page 73), who had taken one of his courses on Japan.

The historian believes that Matsuzaka, who consistently gave an impression of immense seriousness during the season, “is a lot more interesting and fun-loving than he lets on.” Gordon also agrees with the sports-media consensus that, after his year of adjustment, Matsuzaka will probably improve considerably on the 15-12 record and 4.40 earned-run average (ERA) he posted in 2007; in the American League, he made three or four more starts than he would have in Japan, where the travel time is also much less wearing. Even so, the rookie recorded the best ERA in the American League during a two-month stretch; when he seemed to tire later in the year, the Red Sox helped energize him for the playoffs, Gordon says, by giving him “a sabbatical.” The strategy worked. He won the American League pennant-clinching game and became the first Japanese pitcher to start and win a game in the World Series.