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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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We Didn't Deserve Each Other

Kaz Matsui shouldn't have been a New York Met. It was wrong for him, it was wrong for us.

This was not Reggie Jackson and George Steinbrenner, one of whom was a liar and the other was convicted, thus they deserved each other — as an overwrought, overbuzzed Billy Martin so memorably and accurately framed it. We didn't deserve Kaz. Kaz didn't deserve us.

We both deserved better.

To this night, when we learned that our long international nightmare was over, I never understood how Kaz Matsui became a pin cushion for Mets fans. I mean, yeah, I get that he didn't succeed and those who don't succeed aren't generally treated royally, but how could you boo that face? I spent 2-1/3 seasons just feeling sorry for the guy. I'd like to believe the negative reaction was to his presence and performance, and that it was nothing personal, though I'm not sure why I'm still worried about it.

Kaz Matsui never uttered a cross word (at least one that was translated) about his tormentors in the stands. He never let on that he didn't like how he was being used (not that he gave his managers much choice). He never sat off in a corner of the dugout by his lonesome, George Foster style. The other night, after Milledge's second homer, Kaz was jumping up and down and congratulating a guy he presumably barely knew. That, I thought, is a good teammate.

That said, there was no good reason for his being signed to play here. Given the money ($8 mil a year for three years), the domino effect (shifting Reyes to second) and the allocation of resources (Jose had just staked his claim to shortstop, so WTF?), you could argue that it was the dumbest high-profile free agent acquisition in Mets history that didn't involve Vince Coleman's signature.

Even if the Mets weren't the only MLB team that saw something special in him based on his stellar Japanese career (and his potential Asian-American fan appeal), they simply didn't need him. This wasn't the '93 Braves enhancing a rotation of Glavine, Smoltz and Avery with Maddux. You can always use more great pitching. You can only do so much with two shortstops, especially if the new one isn't Alex Rodriguez.

The Mets had no business trying to convert Reyes to second. Once that was deduced, it was a shame Matsui couldn't pull off that switch. He was as inept at second in 2005 as he was at short in 2004. Definitely looked fine defensively this year, but he never came close to mastering Western pitching on a going basis. Maybe getting the whole package was too much to ask for, though at these prices, you're entitled to inquire.

I'm a little sad to see him go not because I was anticipating a Matsui resurrection in the second half and not because he left behind such a stacked résumé of Mets accomplishments. Actually, I'm not sure why I'm sad to see him go. I guess it's because he did show flashes of ability and he did seem like such a nice fellow and he did deserve better. But since he shouldn't have been here in the first place, this is better.

In late 2003, Kaz was the cornerstone of Jim Duquette's Catch The Energy, let's get athletic rebuilding program. Tonight he was traded to Colorado with two sacks of cash for Eli Marrero. At this point, we would have accepted Eli Whitney and a cotton gin to be named later.

To recap, Kaz Matsui is a Rockie. Anderson Hernandez and Jeff Keppinger are Tides. And your everyday starting second baseman in everything but name is Jose Valentin, who's become pretty darn good at it, hitting and fielding. Even a month ago, did anybody see that coming?

9 comments to We Didn't Deserve Each Other

  • Anonymous

    Hallelujah, Gregory. Kaz was never anything but a consumate professional (if a highly overpaid one) over the last two and a half years. He seems like a sweet guy, and I was cheering for him harder than anyone when he looked suddenly reincarnated early in the season. But I'm glad it's over — it went on too long and would have been uglier if the Mets hadn't been in first place all year. I wish him the best, and hope he pulls a Carl Everett for the Rockies.
    How can you boo him? If the Mets offered you a cool eight mil to play the infield, you'd take it too, and you'd be a hell of a lot worse than Kaz Matsui.
    Or at least a little worse.

  • Anonymous

    LIsten now, I'm probably the only one on here who actually has seen Greg play baseball (OK, softball) and I take umbrage at your remark as to his infield play. He would be WAY, WAY worse than Kaz was on Kaz' worst, most humiliating day.
    Just thought I should stand up for my buddy Greg.
    Got your back, Pal.
    On the other hand, Greg would be a lot more fun to sit next to on the bench, being how he speaks english and all…

  • Anonymous

    I'm sure Kaz was a nice person, a class act, etc., but when we have a team with lots of nice person/class act-type people who are actually productive, we don't need him. Still, I felt bad for him every time he came to the plate with that deer-in-the-headlights expression on his face. May he get it together out there in Colorado (just not when they're playing against us).

  • Anonymous

    I'm sorry to see him go too, Greg. More than his mediocre-at-best numbers should justify.
    Why? It's like you said: he tried his hardest every day. You could see it in his face. (His “dear-in-the-headlights” look at the plate was equally evident) But for the first time, this year, his look on the field was one of ease and confidence. And in the brief moments, or collections of moments, when he demonstrated the dynamic skill and talent that he had throughout his Japanese career, you could see the joy just as clearly on his face (did you see his expression after that inside-the-park job?)
    It's distressing how mean-spirited the fans are at Shea these days. They made Kaz, the proverbial loveable loser, their personal whipping boy. They booed Beltran before his homer (are they booing him now?). They booed said uber-productive second baseman when he was a miserable pinch hitter. They even booed Milledge's error. Are we trying to live up to our own reputation as a “tough” New York crowd? I wish we'd show a little respect and save our boos for Braves and Yanks.
    Sorry, Kaz. You'll probably be remembered as the disastrous and ill-concieved signing that you were, but not by me. I will always remember you as a guy who was in over his head and never gave up. As a guy who never sulked despite sucking (and being reminded of it whenever he stepped up to bat). Who was always laughing and smiling in the dugout despite not speaking English. Who always homered in his first at-bat. And a guy who, at least once, won us an exciting game against the Braves at Shea. Sayonara, as they say, Kaz.
    PS: As my brother pointed out to me today, Kaz was our last Asian player and the utility man we got (what's his name again?) is our third Cuban. We've long since thrown out Los Mets on this blog (America still clings to Intelligent Design, however), but having watched Omar, I have a revised theory. I think he's an aggressive GM who wants to win–he's looking for the best guys. Period. (He's even willing to spend in Yankee proportions.)
    But there are a hell of a lot of exceptional Latino players in the Major Leagues, and if he's got a choice between two players of equal skill/value, I think he'd go with the Latin player every time. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but, I think, it is his clear preference.

  • Anonymous

    It's distressing how mean-spirited the fans are at Shea these days. They made Kaz, the proverbial loveable loser, their personal whipping boy. They booed Beltran before his homer (are they booing him now?). They booed said uber-productive second baseman when he was a miserable pinch hitter. They even booed Milledge's error. Are we trying to live up to our own reputation as a “tough” New York crowd? I wish we'd show a little respect and save our boos for Braves and Yanks
    While I'd also prefer that the booing were reserved for the enemy, I can see where frustration leads some of us to warm up our vocal chords on the home team's underachievers. Still, I think that for the most part Mets fans “get it” and have their heads in the right place – in the handful of games I attended during Cliff's prolonged flirtation with the Mendoza line, I never heard anyone booing him, and it almost seemed as though when he came through in a key situation, the crowd cheered louder than it did for anyone else because we knew how much it meant.

  • Anonymous

    That is a good point. The fans have been very understanding with Cliff, and they should be, considering how important he was to the team's relative success last year. One alternative I might suggest for fans to express their displeasure: the ironic standing-O. At one point last year, Beltran, when he was really mired in a slump, beat out a weakly-hit double-play grounder to allow a run to score from third. I was sitting down the first base line and I got up and cheered like crazy.
    This, to me, seemed like a good compromise. It got the point across without being entirely obnoxious.
    Oh, by the way, if he's available, don't you think it'd be a good idea to pick up Kaz for his first AB next year? You can always use an automatic home run.

  • Anonymous

    I'd expect nothing less.

  • Anonymous

    The saddest part is that he isn't even a Rockie — they sent him to Triple-A Colorado Springs. I don't know if that's until they make another move, or if they want him to get it together down there.
    I hope he does well.

  • Anonymous

    Someone alerted me to this post, describing it as one of the best pieces on Kaz's departure from the Mets, and yes, I'd have to agree that it is.
    There was also a good article in the Daily Yomiuri on how Kaz is handling being in the minors, and he spoke about how dedicated he is to being in MLB, and never wants to return to the Japanese league.
    Does anyone recall a piece in a magazine on the pre-season Mets? I can't recall if it was ESPN or SI, but I recall them saying that Kaz looked “balletic” at 2nd turning double plays. I don't live in a market where I get to see many games, and whenever the Mets were on it seemed he was not in the lineup, so I rarely got an opportunity for independent verification, none this year.