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Legal action gives new definition to ‘The Meaning of Ichiro’

by Jack Gallagher

Well, I must say, this one really takes the cake.

Jack Gallagher

Just when you thought you had heard it all, along comes another tale that is so preposterous it is practically beyond belief.

A source has told The Japan Times that last December a legal team for baseball superstar Ichiro Suzuki demanded that Hayakawa Publishing Co., stop publication of the Japanese edition of “The Meaning of Ichiro,” claiming infringement of Ichiro’s image and publicity rights, copyright violation and invasion of privacy.

It appears that Ichiro’s father, Nobuyuki, was behind the maneuver — which failed — and hoped to cash in on the proceeds from the book following his son’s record-setting season with the Seattle Mariners in 2004.

Hayakawa’s lawyers studied the demand and deemed it without merit.

Attempts to reach Ichiro’s father for comment on the lawsuit were unsuccessful.

Apparently Ichiro’s dad forgot to take into account the fact that his son is one of the most famous people in Japan and has been the subject of more than 30 books with his photo and name in the title.

What is crystal clear is that financial gain — and nothing else — was the motivating factor for the legal action.

The funny thing is, we are not talking about Ichiro, who would seem to have a very healthy bank account, with the potential for nearly unlimited earnings in the future, but rather his father, who has been known to covet the almighty buck.

I have heard so many negative things about this guy, from so many different people, that it makes me wonder what his problem is.

In addition to this threatened lawsuit, there is the story about how, when the MLB-Japan All-Star Series was being played in November of 2003, a reporter for ESPN.com called up the Ichiro Exhibition Room (a museum) near Nagoya — which Ichiro’s father runs — to ask for an interview with the star’s dad.

Much to his surprise, the journalist was told that Ichiro’s old man would be happy to talk with him — for 100,000 yen.

Requesting payment for interviews from Japanese tabloids magazines be not be out of line, however, it is not what most Western journalists are used to hearing.

Ichiro’s dad obviously didn’t know this.

The Ichiro Exhibition Room is home to nearly every artifact imaginable from the batting wizard’s youth.

Sounds like it would be interesting to check out, right?

Well, you can — for 900 yen.

Notice a pattern here?

Wherever Ichiro’s father is involved, money — or the desire for it — seems to be not far behind.

It is really pathetic.

You would think the man would not want to do anything to embarrass his son or call unnecessary attention to himself, but the reality is quite the contrary.

The sad thing is, that Ichiro — despite his incredible brilliance on the diamond — has had his own share of embarrassments off the field.

The payoff to the married woman he had an affair with while playing for the Orix BlueWave, the fling with the Japanese junior college student in the San Francisco Bay Area — after he was married — early in his career with the Mariners, and his bizarre treatment of the Japanese media (talking to them after games with his back to them), all just make you shake your head.

It’s not hard to see where Ichiro’s poor judgment comes from. He’s a chip off the old block in that department.

Noted author Robert Whiting, who wrote “The Meaning of Ichiro,” is convinced that Ichiro’s father was the trigger man behind the legal action to stop publication of the book in Japan.

“I thought it was frivolous to claim unauthorized use of Ichiro’s name and image,” commented Whiting from his home in California on Monday.

“The Meaning of Ichiro does not stand for ‘The Story of Ichiro.’ He is a symbolic figure who, because of all the attention he has gotten, represents the upward rise of the Japanese ballplayer in the MLB, which is the theme of my book.

“Two of the 10 chapters in the book are about him. What I find curious is why there was no similar letter sent to the U.S. publisher.”

Added Whiting, “Whoever was behind this action is a real control freak.”

Control freak?

Ichiro’s dad?

You mean like somebody who makes their son practice baseball 360 out of 365 days for years and then throws baseballs at him when he wants to quit early one day?

I keep thinking about Hideki Matsui and his family and what a fine example they have always set with their conduct.

Here is a guy who has been under the microscope for years now — with the biggest teams in two countries — yet you hear almost nothing negative about him. He probably doesn’t even jaywalk.

After every game, Matsui politely answers every question from the assembled media, because he realizes that is part of his job.

Obviously, there are days when he would rather not do it, but the New York Yankees star respects the fact that the media has a job to do, and cooperates with them.

You don’t ever hear about Matsui’s father, Masao, — who is very popular — trying to extract money from people, and it is clear that he instilled basic values in his son that Ichiro’s father failed to in his.

When the catastrophic tsunami struck the countries surrounding the Indian Ocean in December, Matsui stepped up quickly and donated 50 million yen to the Japanese Red Cross for the relief fund for the disaster.

It was a class act from a class individual.

Matsui didn’t do it because he wanted publicity, he did it because his upbringing and humanity told him it was the right thing to do.

It was a very basic edict — help those in need.

I have yet to hear of any donation by Ichiro to any of the tsunami relief funds.

By the way, in Matsui’s native Ishikawa Prefecture, his dad also operates a hall — the Hideki Matsui Baseball Museum — in his son’s honor.

If you’re ever in the neighborhood stop by.

You won’t be surprised to find out that admission is absolutely free.

JT columnist in APSE top 10

Jack Gallagher, the sports editor of The Japan Times, has been named a top 10 columnist by the Associated Press Sports Editors for his work in 2004, the organization announced recently.

Gallagher was selected for his column writing in the 40,000-100,000 circulation group and is a finalist for the overall prize in the category.

APSE is comprised of more than 400 newspapers, wire services and sports publications in the United States, Canada and Japan.

The group, which was founded in 1974, recognizes journalistic achievement each year in several categories.