Berroa Was The Smart Choice

Going into Monday's Rookie of the Year announcements, Hideki Matsui was considered the heavy favorite to take home the award despite the issue that he wasn't exactly anyone's definition of a rookie. Except for Major League Baseball that is. When the voters from the Baseball Writers Association made Angel Berroa their choice however, they opened a window of opportunity for MLB to change their policy on Japanese players.

Over the past few years, the MLB has become more active in integrating foreign players into the league. In 1995, Hideo Nomo became the first Japanese player to sign with an American team and he ended up winning the rookie of the year award. Since Nomo opened the door for Japanese players, several others have come to Major League teams. Players like Kazuhiro Sasaki, Hideki Irabu, Kazuhisa Ishii and Ichiro Suzuki have all come over and enjoyed success so far.

But should they qualify for the coveted Rookie of the Year award?

Ichiro and Sasaki took home the honor in 2001 and 2000 respectively and Ichiro even won the MVP that year, but Nomo's winning of the award in 95 set a precedent that has caused serious issue now that more and more Japanese players are starting to make their way to this side of the Pacific.

Someone needs to tell me, however, how a man that has played in 1,268 games in his career could be considered a rookie in any capacity. Hideki Matsui hit 332 homeruns in his career before joining the Yankees. He had driven in 889 runs by the time he drove in his first in pinstripes and, most importantly, he had spent 10 years of his life playing baseball.

So why is he a rookie?

MLB's qualifying factors are simple. Have fewer than 130 total ABs or 50 innings pitched at the major-league level and less than 45 days spent on a major league roster and you qualify.

So according to the definition, the Japanese free agents will all be rookies just like all the players coming over from the Negro Leagues back in the 40s after Jackie Robinson (for whom the award is now named) were all rookies.

But that means that Japanese players with years of experience at a higher level than baseball's minor leagues, some of whom have already won the Rookie of the Year award in their country, some of whom have already won MVP awards in their country will have a distinct advantage over true "rookies".

So baseball needs to change their definition, and now that a Japanese player hasn't won for two consecutive years (Ishii garnered 16 points in last year's NL voting), now is the perfect time.

One solution might be to include an age cap on rookies. For instance, claim that anyone over the age of 26 or 27 can't qualify as a rookie. Another, probably better, idea would be to limit the amount of years of baseball service a player can have at any level to qualify for the minors. Assuming a year or so at each level (low-A to AAA), a limit of four or five years of non-MLB experience would disclude a player from "rookie" candidacy.

Eventually, somewhere down the road, the Japanese league might become completely assimilated into Major League Baseball. Once the influx of Japanese players becomes a common thing (like African-American players), other players, from other nations and leagues will start coming into the majors and this argument might start all over again. Unless, that is, Major League Baseball does something about it now.

Players like Hideki Matsui and Ichiro Suzuki shouldn't qualify for the rookie of the year award. Their classification as "rookie" is disrespectful to the Japanese League and unfair to "true" rookies like Angel Berroa, C.C. Sabathia and Chipper Jones. In 2004, Japanese superstar Kazuo Matsui is planning on joining the Majors. MLB should act now so that the 28-year old shortstop doesn't prevent the next Chipper Jones from winning the Rookie of the Year.

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