“I’ll Take That Ball Mr. Matsuzaka. You Have My Permission To Leave.”


In a perfect world, just for one day, I dream that Batman arch-villain Bane could replace Sox GM Ben Cherington just so Red Sox Nation could hear him say to Daisuke Matsuzaka, “When Boston is ashes, you have my permission to leave.”

“When Boston is ashes, you have my permission to leave.”

Matsuzaka, the poster child for a free-wheeling orgy of over-spending that ushered in the beginning of the end of a once dominant and envied franchise, does not need to make another appearance ever in a Red Sox uniform. He was hammered senseless Saturday night by the Toronto Blue Jays, going just 1.3 innings and allowing five runs on five hits and fittingly pitching the Red Sox into last place. How can that be? Easy. In the second inning it went like this: homer, single, hit batsman, double, single, sac fly, single. “I’ll take that ball now Mr. Matsuzaka. You have my permission to leave.” So what did Boston get from the Dice-K deal and how can they move on from it?

Matsuzaka signed a six-year, $52 million deal with the Sox in the winter of 2006-07 after Boston had already paid the Seibu Lions of Japan’s Pacific League $50 million just for the rights to talk for him. Boston got two productive years from Matsuzaka. The championship season of 2007, Dice-K’s first season (15-12, 4.40 ERA), and a special 18-3 season in 2008 when he had a 2.90 ERA.

"If, however, you closely watched Matsuzaka’s 2008 year, and I did, the statistics don’t tell the entire story. He walked the razor’s edge most every game he pitched. He narrowly escaped a lot jams and big innings and got lucky more than a few times. I thought to myself at the time, “If this guy ever loses it just a little bit, he’s gonna get killed.” He never did lose it a little bit. He lost it a lot."

Over the next four years, Matsuzaka was on and off the DL – mostly on – and when in action was generally ineffective:
2009: 4-6, 4.00 ERA
2010: 9-6, 4.69 ERA
2011: 3-3, 5.30 ERA
2012: 1-2, 6.15 ERA

In retrospect, it’s hardly a surprise that Matsuzaka’s talents dropped precipitously in Boston. By the time he signed with the Red Sox he’d already pitched 1,401.5 innings in 168 games over eight full seasons with the Lions, an average of 8.3 innings per outing. Excluding an injury shortened 2002 season, Matsuzaka struck out an average of 182 batters per season, which even today would put him in the top 10 pitchers in Major League Baseball.

"After coming up short in both the Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira sweepstakes the Red Sox, in their zeal to do anything to block the Yankees from getting another perceived premium player, bit hard on Matsuzaka. Ultimately Boston bought a used Jaguar, an expensive foreign car with too much mileage that broke down a lot and was very costly to repair."

Ultimately, Matsuzaka was shut down in 2011, had Tommy John surgery and has been useless since. Saturday night’s latest and hopefully last performance by Matsuzaka sealed the deal. If the Red Sox are to heal the wound opened at the end of the 2011 season – a wound that has continued to ooze throughout 2012 – Saturday night made it clear that there is still work to do to clear Boston of the deadwood.

Matsuzaka’s story when taken in context with the signings of John Lackey, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez tells the tale of a franchise trapped in excess attempting to fuel continued success. It’s been a bitter lesson learned. Continue to dump the excess. Get back to some Billy Ball fueled not by cash but by Bill James and a Carmine reset. Your move Ben.

I lost it once, lost it twice 
Well you might have been good baby but you just weren’t worth the price 
I’m a three time loser, three time loser
And I don’t have to take it anymore
– Three Time Loser, Bonnie Raitt