November 5th, 2009
07:11 PM ET

Matsui's Yankees boost baseball's world profile

The New York Yankees are one of those teams that fans love to hate. You either love the Yankees or you hate them, rarely is there middle ground. Winning the 27th World Series title in franchise history has given the “lovers” of this storied Major League Baseball club reason to smile and the “haters” even more ammunition!

Hideki Matsui led the Yankees to a World Series victory which was closely followed in his native Japan.
Hideki Matsui led the Yankees to a World Series victory which was closely followed in his native Japan.

But there’s something that the Yankees have done that can be lauded by even the so-called “haters”: they’ve helped make the very American sport of baseball become even more of a global game.

Nine of the World Series-winning players on the New York roster were born outside of the United States. The list is fronted by Hideki Matsui, the first Japan-born player to win the World Series' Most Valuable Player award.

Matsui came to the Yankees as a superstar in his native land, a winner of three titles in Japan. But what he did on the game’s biggest stage was simple remarkable. His batting average in the World Series was .615 and he was 8-for-13 at the plate with three home runs and eight runs batted in. Through a translator, Matsui said that he amazed himself: “It’s awesome. Unbelievable.”

Millions of baseball fans in Japan watched Matsui’s heroics. They tuned in at home, in offices, in bars and restaurants, and many even filled downtown Tokyo electronics stores to check out the World Series clinching game. The word “proud” was used time and time again when Japanese baseball fans spoke of the historic performance of their native son.

Asia has always been a hot bed of baseball talent, with Japan feeding the Major Leagues with a number of mouth-watering prospects. Taiwan is now considered an up and coming, talent-rich nation in the region. Of course, Latin America’s contributions to the Major League landscape can not be overstated and now Europe may even be getting in on the mix! This past summer, one Major League team even signed a prospect who calls Germany home. Sure, football will always be king in many parts of the globe, but it’s good to see a sport that I grew up with making major inroads outside of North America.

Forbes magazine has listed the New York Yankees as the fifth most valuable sports franchise in the world. Don’t be surprised if you see Yankees hats and shirts in places where baseball is still a curiosity. After all, who doesn’t want to count themselves as being associated with a winner? Okay, I’m sure the world’s Yankees Haters will take a pass!

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Filed under:  Baseball
November 5th, 2009
02:41 PM ET

Ferguson’s passion still burns brightly

Any thoughts we may have had that Manchester United’s Alex Ferguson might just be a little more conciliatory after a recent brush with English football’s hierarchy over criticism of referees have very quickly proved to be misguided.

Ferguson still makes sure not to pull any punches when dealing with the football authorities.
Ferguson still makes sure not to pull any punches when dealing with the football authorities.

Just minutes after his team’s thrilling Champions League draw with Russia’s CSKA Moscow on Tuesday, the fiery Scot was at it again only this time I have to say he was well justified in his viewpoint.

Fergie, lamenting the fact his men were denied a blatant penalty for a foul on midfielder Darren Fletcher, told post- match reporters that he simply couldn’t believe the decision, describing it as “one of the worst I’ve seen in my lifetime”.

Now how’s that for damping things down!

But for me this latest spat only goes to prove the veteran coach’s appetite for the game is as fervent as ever.

Sir Bobby's advice

The footballing community recently witnessed an emotional farewell to another legendary manager, Sir Bobby Robson.

They came from far and wide to pay tribute to a man who's left an indelible mark on the game he loved. Among those gathered was another of the game's true giants and another "Sir" to boot. That man Ferguson!

There was nothing especially noteworthy about the fact the Scot was at that memorial service in the north- east of England in late September. After all, the great and the good of the football world were all pretty much in attendance. It was more really the little snippet of information Fergie let slip while there that intrigued me.

Remember when he was originally due to retire back in 2001 two seasons after delivering United's first European cup title since 1968? Contrary to popular belief that it may have been his wife Cathy who talked him out of it, the United chief revealed it was in fact Sir Bobby who had a major bearing on his decision. The former England head coach made it quite clear he felt Ferguson was leaving the game far too early.

Once that opinion had been registered, the Scot needed no further reflections. And, as they say, the rest is history. Eight seasons on and one of the sport's most successful managers is still going strong. And how!

Since 1986 he has ruled the roost at Old Trafford, and it's quite clear the passion still burns as brightly as ever. Just witness those frantic last-gasp celebrations when a jubilant Fergie punched the air with glee as United scored the game-winner against a shell-shocked Manchester City recently, scenes hardly in keeping with someone who's not a million miles away from his 70th birthday!

I recall going into the match Sir Alex somewhat demeaningly said that his club's "true" derby was against Liverpool. That's the clash most fans truly relish he added. While there's doubtless plenty of truth to that, judging by the way he danced a jig of joy on the pitch, the fiery Scotsman still keeps plenty in reserve for victories over Mark Hughes' money- laden City.

I personally thought Ferguson would have been strongly tempted to call it quits had his team beaten Barcelona in last season's European Cup final in Italy's magnificent capital city Rome. Indeed, I'm sure he's privately well aware that had his men scored in those opening ten minutes which they dominated, they would surely have gone on to victory against the Catalans.

As it turned out, Barca re-grouped and went on to take control before winning fairly comfortably and that's just one reason I feel the United manager will be around for some time to come. I've got a sneaking feeling, Sir Bobby would have it no other way!

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Filed under:  Football