The Yankees issued more than 200 credentials for today’s Masahiro Tanaka press conference. It was a legitimate global event, held in the brightly decorated Legends Club rather than the usual plain press conference room. There were televisions showing Tanaka’s name, and other televisions showing footage of him pitching in Japan. There were suitcases in the back of the room, evidence of the travel required by some of the writers and reporters.
When it came time for Brian Cashman to speak, he seemed to immediately think of George Steinbrenner.
“The Yankees obviously are about always trying to acquire the best talent, and a collection of talent that can compete for a championship,” Cashman said. “But (Steinbrenner) also like a lot of attention. And this certainly represents a lot of attention. This is Yankee big. This is Steinbrenner big.”
It’s the double-edged sword of acquiring a player like Tanaka. Just last week, Cashman was trying to keep expectations in check with a less-than-glowing evaluation on ESPN Radio. Today the Yankees were presenting their largest press conference since the Hideki Matsui introduction in Times Square in 2003. Ultimately, there’s not controlling the international hype and attention of a $155-million player who’s married to a pop star and who chartered a private jet for his trip from Japan to America.
And maybe the expectation — the Tanaka’s apparent desire to chase it — is part of the appeal.
“I think you saw his performance today,” Randy Levine said. “He showed an unbelievable amount of poise and grace meeting you guys for the first time. He reminds us a lot of Matsui; he’s got that confidence. When we went out to L.A. and met him, we talked to him to say, ‘This is where you need to be. You’re a great star, the biggest franchise, the biggest brand, the biggest city.’ He said some other teams he had met with wanted him to transition in, and he didn’t like that. He wanted to take the ball on Day 1. That told us a lot about him.”
Said Hal Steinbrenner: “He made that clear at one point. He doesn’t want to transition in; he wants to be put right on the big stage in the big games and test himself. He’s been there before in Japan and he’s going to do great here.”
Even Cashman couldn’t help but set a high standard when talking about the impression Tanaka made during the Yankees meeting with him in Los Angeles. Cashman said meeting Tanaka reminded him of his first meeting with Orlando Hernandez.
“It doesn’t mean it’s going to be this way, but it’s more of a presence,” Cashman said. “I remember when El Duque came through, there was a little bit of a presence that was picked up on, that our manager at the time, Joe Torre, and Mel Stottlemyer kind of felt like, wow, there’s something special about this guy.”
Is there something special about Tanaka? A press conference isn’t enough to answer that question. Really, we didn’t learn much today that we didn’t already know. This was really a chance to see first-hand exactly how much attention is focused on Tanaka as he makes this transition from Japanese standout to Major League phenom (before he’s thrown a single Major League pitch).
“I’ve heard that this place is, it can be very harsh to you at times,” Tanaka said. “Just wanted to put myself through this environment and see where I can get to with my ability.”
Associated Press photos