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Monday, November 17, 2003
League officials asked for Yankee move

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Hideki Matsui may be going back to Japan next season -- and taking the rest of the New York Yankees with him.

The baseball commissioner's office asked the American League champions on Monday to consider moving their 2004 season opener to Japan, where the outfielder won three Most Valuable Player awards with the Yomiuri Giants.

While no public announcement was made, the talks were confirmed by two baseball officials who spoke on the condition they not be identified.

The Yankees received a letter Monday from Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer, asking them to consider shifting games against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays to Japan, one of the officials said.

The letter said the league also was considering other teams for the trip but did not elaborate, the official said.

The talks between the Yankees and the commissioner's officer were described as being in "their infancy." Both teams and the players' association would have to agree to the shift.

New York currently is scheduled to open at home against Tampa Bay on April 5 and 7, then play a four-game series at Tampa Bay from April 12-15.

The Yankees have never played regular-season games outside the United States and Canada.

Following Matsui's decision to sign with the Yankees, the commissioner's office asked the Yankees last January to consider a Japanese opener in 2004.

But after the scheduled Tokyo series between Oakland and Seattle in March was scrapped because of the looming war in Iraq, baseball wanted to give the Athletics and Mariners the chance at the next Japan trip.

Seattle did not want to make the trip in 2004, one of the officials said.

Matsui had a stellar first season in New York, hitting .287 with 16 homers and 106 RBIs. He finished second to Kansas City shortstop Angel Berroa in close voting for the AL Rookie of the Year.

Two writers left Matsui off their ballots, saying veterans from Japan's major leagues shouldn't be eligible. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner then criticized the pair, saying Matsui should have won.

Two other writers left Berroa off their ballots. In addition, Matsui was bypassed by managers for the outfield on the All-Rookie Team, finishing behind Tampa Bay's Rocco Baldelli, Cleveland's Jody Gerut and Milwaukee's Scott Podsednik.