View From Studio 3: Tanaka takes New York
On the same day the country celebrated the 50th anniversary of The Beatles' arrival in the United States, a "rock star" of a different kind landed in the Big Apple. This time it was on a commercial airline chartered by new Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. The rental of the plane cost the pitcher nearly $200,000.
Pocket change for this 25-year-old, who just signed a seven-year deal worth $155 million.
On a bone-chilling afternoon in New York, more than 200 media members from all corners of the globe got a sneak peak of what life may be like in Yankees land over the next few years.
It looks nothing like anything we've ever seen before in New York. And grocery-store sushi -- Tanaka's first meal after touching down -- has never gotten this kind of publicity.
For the first time in the storied history of the Yanks, the face of the team may become that of an athlete from the other side of the world. Baseball has long been an international game, but never before has a star player from the Pacific Rim suited up for the Bronx Bombers and taken the city and franchise by storm the way Tanaka appears ready to do.
Tanaka's age, ability, self-confidence, celebrity wife, contract size and desire to perform in the spotlight makes him a go-to guy for back-page headlines before he's even thrown a Major League pitch. His performance on the mound could catapult the right-hander into a different celebrity stratosphere.
Even Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, who is not prone to hyperbole of any kind, said: "This is big. This is something I was thinking as I was driving in today, that this would make the Boss proud."
Cashman was talking about the late owner, George Steinbrenner. That quote gives you an idea of how important this signing is for a franchise that, over the decades, has redefined the word "big" as it relates to free agents.
Since the Steinbrenners bought the Yanks in the early 1970s, they have employed a number of Asian-born players, with varying degrees of success. Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa didn't work out too famously. Ryota Igarashi was forgettable, while Chien-Ming Wang was, for a very short time, a solid Major League pitcher.
The current Yankees roster includes Tanaka's countrymen Hiroki Kuroda and future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki, whose very best days are likely in the rearview mirror.
The most prominent Asian-born player to suit up in pinstripes was Hideki Matsui, who reportedly helped recruit Tanaka to the Bronx. Matsui was a huge star before coming to America. He was also a consummate professional who also happened to be super clutch and super popular. His MVP performance in the 2009 World Series landed Matsui in rarified air. But as great as Matsui was, it was not his team. Timing was the only thing standing is his way. There was Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte, among others. Matsui was one star in a virtual galaxy of stars
Tanaka's timing is impeccable. It may allow him inherit the club from Jeter. It may not be a direct handoff, but one that takes a couple of seasons. Think about it. Jeter will likely be retired in a few years, while all-time good guy CC Sabathia will likely be past his prime. Robinson Cano is gone, and newcomer Jacoby Ellsbury flies under the radar like a stealth bomber. Hard to imagine his face gracing the cover of New York Magazine.
If Brian McCann performs up to expectations, he will be immensely popular. A natural-born leader with grit and guile, McCann jerseys should sell fast. But in a city that enjoys glitz, glitter and gossip, you'd have a better shot at finding McCann flying coach than chartering his own jet airplane.
The stage is set. The stars are aligned. Tanaka's next New York act will take place in April. One of the most recognizable American brands will unveil its international superstar.
All that's left to do is for Tanaka to live up to the hype.