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Former Tokyo attorney Russ Roten has won the Baseball Bullet-In “Hideki Matsui Sweepstakes” by coming the closest to guessing Matsui’s home run, runs batted in and batting average statistics at the Major League All-Star break on July 14.

I invited readers of the column back in January to send in predictions for Matsui’s stats at the break, and 58 of you responded. Thanks.

Matsui’s pre-All-Star numbers were nine homers, 66 RBIs and a .299 average, and Roten, now practicing law in Los Angeles, came closest by saying Matsui would be hitting .301 with 16 homers and 61 RBIs.

One point was subtracted for each predicted number above or below the actual stats. For the average, Roten scored a minus 2 (.301-.299), for homers a minus 7 (16-9) and for RBIs a minus 5 (66-61) for a total score of minus 14.

Tom Milburn was second with a minus 26 with predictions of nine homers (right on), 51 RBIs and a .288 average. Ryan Howell of Nagoya was third with a minus 28 after picking 15 homers, 55 RBIs and a .310.

As it turned out, the scores were high because of the uneven HR-RBI ratio posted by Hideki. One fan with not much confidence in Matsui scored a minus 172 after guessing just three homers, 15 RBIs and .184.

Roten will receive as his prize a New York Yankees jersey, but I’m not sure how thrilled he will be about that. He’s a Dodgers fan. Anyway, congratulations.

By the way, at the current pace, Matsui would finish the season with 17 home runs, 114 RBIs and a .301 batting average. It will have been a pretty good year considering he was a starter for the American League in the MLB All-Star Game, he would likely be Rookie of the Year, and the Yankees will probably make the post-season and possibly the World Series. But why the low home run count?

Former Yankees great Don Mattingly, appearing with New York broadcasters Michael Kay, Ken Singleton and Jim Kaat on Oldtimers Day at Yankee Stadium on July 19, said he thinks Matsui is still learning the opposing pitchers, and that’s why “Godzilla” will come nowhere near the 50 homers he hit for the Yomiuri Giants in 2002. Mattingly said Matsui would have to see each pitcher “six or seven times” before he could know what each throws, then more homers would come.

However, with the Yanks playing 13 other American League teams and a selection of National League clubs during interleague play, it would take the entire length of Matsui’s three-year contract with New York to see all the pitchers a half dozen times.

Meanwhile, Tsuyoshi Shinjo should come back and play out his career in Japan where he was an all-star and one of the outstanding players on the Hanshin Tigers.

The Yokohama BayStars, for one, want Shinjo, and sports papers have reported the Yomiuri Giants would not mind having him as their center fielder. He could help some other teams here as well. Shinjo did his best to prove he could play in the majors and stuck it out for two-and-a-half seasons with the Mets and San Francisco.

He has nothing to be ashamed of, and if he’s smart, he’ll finish out this season in the U.S. minors or catch on with another MLB team, then come home and resume his career, following in the footsteps of ex-big leaguers Mac Suzuki and Masato Yoshii (both now with the Orix BlueWave) and Hideki Irabu, who’s having a super season with Shinjo’s old team, the Tigers.

The same goes for So Taguchi whose two-year career with the St. Louis Cardinals has been spent mostly in Memphis playing minor league ball. He gave it his best shot to succeed in the majors, but it just was not to be. Taguchi was also an all-star here with the BlueWave, and he too should return to help some Central or Pacific League team in the 2004 season.

Setting the record straight: It has been pointed out to me that I was mistaken in writing that Kenjiro Kawasaki was elected to this year’s Central League All-Star team by Chunichi Dragons fans stuffing the ballot boxes. Kawasaki has not pitched for two years because of arm trouble.

The story is that, apparently, a computer hacker decided to embarrass Kawasaki for signing a big free agent contract with the Dragons, then not earning the money because he was injured. He somehow got his computer to kick out thousands of ballots selecting Kawasaki and eventually forcing the pitcher to come forward and decline participation in the July 15-16 All-Star games.

How cruel of that hacker, and the incident further supports the opinion in my July 9 column that All-Star voting in Japan, for both the domestic games and the Major League dream contest, is tainted. The system needs to be fixed.

Don’t look now, but as of Monday, July 21, manager Leon Lee’s Orix BlueWave were closer to first place than the Yomiuri Giants. The ‘Wave were 17 1/2 games behind the Pacific League-leading Fukuoka Daiei Hawks, while the Giants were 18 behind the Hanshin Tigers in the Central League.

Press reports have indicated Orix will keep Leon at the helm for at least another season, and that’s good news. It will be interesting to see what kinds of player personnel changes will take place over the coming off-season and how well Leon can do running the team from the spring training get-go in 2004.

Finally this week, where did the Cleveland Indians get a player named Coco Crisp? Shouldn’t that be Cocoa?

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