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How do you say ‘bum deal’ in Japanese?

And other recent highlights from the Ideas blog

NOT QUITE MANIA: A “Matsuzaka maki” roll, 2007.

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

NOT QUITE MANIA: A “Matsuzaka maki” roll, 2007.

When the Red Sox spent $103 million to sign star Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, conventional wisdom had it that Matsuzaka was a smart marketing investment for the team—a way to draw Japanese sponsors and tourists into the Fenway empire.

Matsuzaka never converted on his promise as a player. And what about his financial impact? In a 2008 interview with a pair of Harvard researchers, Red Sox executive Sam Kennedy admitted that with Matsuzaka, “Unfortunately, we have not had as much commercial success.”

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The researchers—Stephen Greyser of the business school and Isao Okada, a former visiting scholar—were analyzing the economic impact of five Japanese players who’ve signed in the major leagues: Hideo Nomo (Dodgers), Ichiro Suzuki (Mariners), Hideki Matsui (Yankees), Matsuzaka, and Kosuke Fukudome (Cubs). Putting aside Fukudome, who was never a star, only Matsuzaka didn’t turn out to be a good investment.

Why not? Matsuzaka, they point out, was a pitcher rather than a position player, and so was on the field only once every five games, which made TV sponsorships and ballpark signage less appealing to Japanese companies. Other factors were that the Red Sox were already selling out all their games anyway, and Boston has fewer Japanese residents and tourists than New York, Los Angeles, or the Pacific Northwest.

At this point it feels a little like piling on to further enumerate the ways Dice-K failed the Red Sox. But his tenure in Boston—and the Harvard study—should sound a note of caution for the teams currently chasing Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka. If they sign him, it should probably only be for his splitter.

Paolo Curcio

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The ‘hobo nickel’ reimagined

Currency makes a unique canvas for art—and because it’s illegal to deface money, a subversive one. At the end of December the visual art website Colossal ran a post on an especially neat branch of currency art known as “hobo nickels.” The art form dates to 1913, when the Buffalo nickel was introduced; its thickness and the relative softness of its metal made it ideal for creating miniature bas reliefs, and it became a popular art form among itinerant people.

They’re still being created in abundance today, including these by artist Paolo Curcio of Barcelona, who largely sticks to traditional hobo nickel themes by carving images of skulls and death into a variety of coins. It’s unsettling to see a skull where you’re used to encountering a president, which makes you realize the kind of emotional attachment we form over time with the faces on our money.

NYC to Boston: your mayors stink!

Boston and New York both elected new mayors in November, and if the cities’ sports rivalry didn’t translate into any political trash-talking between Marty Walsh and Bill de Blasio, that might just be because we’ve lost the fighting spirit of our forbears.

Ideas recently came upon a short, gloating article published in The New York Times on Jan. 16, 1914, with the headline, “New York More Civilized than Boston.” It summarized an editorial recently published in another newspaper, the Springfield Republican, which had argued that “For some reason, Boston fails to get Mayors in the same class with New York Mayors.”

The editorial, as gleefully quoted in the Times, ran through a litany of excuses Boston might offer to justify its inability to elect quality chief executives, including having a large “foreign” population, “a powerful and aggressive liquor interest in politics,” and “financial overlords seeking favors.” But New York had those, too, so why would the Big Apple elect better mayors? “It is difficult to think of a single reason,” the Springfield Republican wrote, “except that, of the two cities today, New York is the more civilized.”

Mayor Walsh, it’s your go.

Kevin Hartnett is a writer in South Carolina. He can be reached at kshartnett18@gmail.com.
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