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Boston rolls the dice for $100 million03/18/2008 3:10 PM ET
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
When Ian Browne visited Japan for the first time in 2006 to cover Major League Baseball's annual Japan All-Star Series, he was overwhelmed by the great sushi, the friendly people and the baseball-crazy vibe.
Browne, who covers the Boston Red Sox for MLB.com, also was amazed by the iconic popularity of pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka.
"I knew he was best pitcher there at the time, but in Japan they treated him like Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods," Browne says. "There were vending machines with his picture on them everywhere you looked. They called him a national treasure."
So when Browne watched in the winter of 2006 as the team he covers on a daily basis ended a long, complicated bidding process by forking over a total of $103.1 million to sign the right-hander, he realized this was a big story that had to be told.
And Browne told that story in grand fashion, writing a book, "Dice-K: The First Season of the Red Sox $100 Million Man," that has just been released by The Lyons Press and features a foreword by Red Sox manager Terry Francona.
It's 218 pages of a seasonal recap of Matsuzaka's eye-opening 2007 campaign, when the "rookie" battled nerves, unfamiliarity with America and all the hype that went along with his huge contract.
Browne first gives us Matsuzaka's background before detailing Boston's relentless pursuit to get their man.
And then, he tracks the season like only a beat writer can, taking us inside the clubhouse and out onto the field, where Matsuzaka took his share of lumps but came out smiling at the end with 15 wins and, of course, a World Series championship.
Browne admits that while he knew all along that Matsuzaka's 2007 would be newsworthy, there were times when his won-lost record and the near-elimination of the Red Sox by the Cleveland Indians in the American League Championship Series might have rendered the tale somewhat anticlimactic.
"Fortunately for the book, it had a happy ending," Browne says. "I was a little worried about it because he had a lot of ups and downs. I was also worried it would end in Game 3 of ALCS, and that would be his last start.
"But the Red Sox got to Game 7, he got the win there, he won Game 3 of the World Series and got a big hit, too. That meant the book has the kind of ending I was looking for."
Along the way to that ending, there are plenty of intriguing stories.
First, there's the legend Matsuzaka built in his homeland at the age of 17 courtesy of a 250-pitch game in a high school tournament, which he followed with a save the next day and a no-hitter the day after that.
Then there was Boston's dogged chase of Matsuzaka, highlighted by a dinner at Sox chairman Tom Werner's home in Pacific Palisades, Calif., in which the Sox enlisted Dan Okimoto as an outside adviser to offer tips on how to impress the young man from Japan.
Okimoto, as it turns out, was a former Princeton roommate of New York Knicks star and future United States Senator Bill Bradley as well as a friend of Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino.
"He understands the culture," Browne says. "He worked with the Red Sox on ways to deal with Matsuzaka and respect him, and address the differences in the two cultures. He ended up being a big factor in how the Red Sox ultimately handled things in the right way."
According to Browne, Matsuzaka handled things the right way, too. Despite a new job in a new land plus a handful of rough games against new hitters that could have shaken his confidence, Dice-K blended into the Boston clubhouse like a veteran.
"He's a very easygoing guy and quick to smile," Browne says. "One thing that struck me about him was how he related to his teammates and vice versa. With the cultural barriers the way they are, sometimes a guy will stick to himself, but he was busting chops from Day One, going back and forth with his teammates, and all in a good-natured way.
"He didn't walk around like he was the $103 million prize. He was just another hard-working player on the team. And I talked to Reggie Jefferson, the former member of the Red Sox who played with Matsuzaka in Japan and also played with Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens. He said Dice-K was the same way in Japan -- just one of the guys."
But, as Browne says, Matsuzaka also had the very recognizable quality of being all business between the lines.
"On the field, he's very serious about his pitching," Browne says. "He's always studying mechanics, working on new pitches and pushing the envelope. He's the baseball equivalent of a basketball gym rat."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.