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Hideki Matsui and Ichiro Suzuki are nearly impossible to replace

As Yu Darvish began his rock-star ascension with the Rangers this season, Hideki Matsui was looking for a job. Only three years earlier, Matsui was the World Series MVP for the Yankees, one of the most powerful sports franchises on the planet.

“I try not to remember any of that because it doesn’t really benefit me at this point, recalling the past experience,” Matsui said this week in his return to Yankee Stadium as a member of the Rays. “Until I’m done with baseball, I’ll just keep it in a certain part of my mind and hopefully reminisce at that point.”

When Hideki Matsui does call it quits, however, it will signal the end of an era as far as Japanese baseball’s imprint on the majors. While Yu Darvish has the star-power to carry that spotlight, along with the lesser constellation of Japanese players dotting the landscape, Matsui’s decade-long run in the States, including seven in the Bronx, may never be equaled.

And at the time Matsui is nearing the end — he turns 37 on Tuesday — so is Ichiro Suzuki, who is 38 and in the final season of his five-year, $90-million contract with the Mariners. Ichiro, who won both the American League MVP and Rookie of the Year in 2001, also is a 10-time All-Star.

As far as position players, Matsui and Ichiro are nearly impossible to replace. They were icons in Japan that became even bigger after their move to the majors, and when both soon retire — possibly at the end of this season — it will leave a sizable void with no immediate understudies.

Darvish now stirs the same kind of media frenzy, but he can’t do it all by himself. Even Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was the 2007 Darvish, couldn’t sustain the hype for as long a period as either Matsui or Ichiro and he’s now fighting to regain some momentum on his way back from Tommy John surgery.

When asked if there would be a new series of Japanese stars to replace this aging group, the Yankees’ Hiroki Kuroda smiled.

“I never thought that I was old,” Kuroda joked, as interpreted by Kenji Nimura. “But if you see a young guy coming like Darvish, you’re forced to think that you’re a veteran, so I guess there will be a next wave of players coming from Japan.”

Kuroda raises another interesting point. Despite the…

via Matsui and Ichiro are nearly impossible to replace |


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