The Matsuzaka Generation (松坂世代, Matsuzaka Sedai) is a term used to collectively describe the (usually Japanese) baseball players that belong to current Chunichi Dragons starting pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka's age group. As per Japanese laws on how children are to be divided into grade levels, this term refers to players born between April 2, 1980, and April 1, 1981.
The term was coined by the Japanese media as the age group that came to be known as one of the deepest and most talented in Japanese professional baseball history.
In 1980, then-Waseda Jitsugyo High School pitcher Daisuke Araki rose to national stardom for his sensational performance in the 62nd National High School Baseball Championship despite being in only his first year (Japanese equivalent of tenth grade) of high school. Araki went on to pitch in five consecutive national tournaments (spring and summer), including the National High School Baseball Invitational Tournament. His popularity, particularly among women, became such a cultural phenomenon that studies showed that Daisuke (in particular, that with the Kanji characterization "大輔") was the most popular name given to newborn infants in Japan from 1979 to 1986.
Four of the players belonging to the Matsuzaka Generation (namely, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Orix Buffaloes pitcher Daisuke Katoh and former Chunichi Dragons pitchers Daisuke Sakai and Daisuke Ue) were given this name and Kanji.
Although the year 1998 is often associated with Matsuzaka's stellar performance as the ace pitcher for Yokohama Senior High School in the 80th National High School Baseball Championship, it was also the final year of high school for many current NPB players. Some went on to the pros immediately after high school, while others did so after playing in college or the industrial leagues.
The media coined the term "Matsuzaka Generation" to describe those born between 2 April 1980 and 1 April 1981 for a number of reasons; namely, that an exceedingly high number of players who played in the 80th National High School Baseball Tournament succeeded at the professional level; that many who went on to play at some of the highest levels of Japanese college baseball like the Tokyo Big6 and Tohto University leagues became ace pitchers for their teams as freshmen and sophomores; and that many prominent Japanese athletes as well as celebrities were born during this span as well. (It can also be said, in turn, that Matsuzaka was able to enjoy an exceptional career in the pros despite being surrounded by such a concentration of talent.) The name is thus not accredited to any particular team or organization and is said to have occurred naturally.
While other age groups seen to consist of many talented players have since been given similar names—those born between 2 April 1988 and 1 April 1989 are sometimes referred to as the Handkerchief Generation (ハンカチ世代, Hankachi Sedai) or Saito Generation (斎藤世代, Saitō Sedai) in reference to Waseda University pitcher Yuki Saito or, alternatively, the Tanaka Generation (田中世代, Tanaka Sedai) in reference to New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka—Matsuzaka's age group was the first to be given the name "世代", meaning "Generation". No single age group has produced players who have as yet collectively succeeded at the professional level to the extent to which Matsuzaka's has.
On March 3, 2003, major Japanese television network Mainichi Broadcasting System ran a special feature titled "Matsuzaka Generation – Spring, For Each of the 22-Year-Olds" (using the "ジェネレーション", the literal katakana syllabary for "Generation", instead of the Japanese word "世代", or sedai) on its popular documentary television series Jounetsu Tairiku. It covered the lives of various players who belonged to the group, some who had gone on to the pros (Nagisa Arakaki), some who still hoped to be drafted (Katsumi Higaki) and some who had decided to pursue other careers altogether (Satoshi Kamishige), nearly five years after the now-legendary 80th National High School Baseball Championship.
The term "Matsuzaka Generation" is often used to describe players belonging to this age group more so for its sheer simplicity rather than to recognize the accomplishments of Matsuzaka himself. Despite this, players' reactions to this name being used have been mixed: the Yomiuri Giants organization is famous for rejecting the name altogether and announcing, "Please refer to the players that belong to the Matsuzaka Generation on our team as the '80's' (Eighties)." Hanshin Tigers pitcher Tomoyuki Kubota once remarked, "It makes it sound like Matsuzaka is the only one who makes this group relevant. The only thing we have in common is that we're the same age." Likewise, Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks pitcher Nagisa Arakaki has said, "Someday I'll make them call it the 'Arakaki Generation'". The Yokohama BayStars once referred to the age group as the "Koike Generation" for then-BayStars outfielder Masaaki Koike (now with the Chunichi Dragons) within the team.
While all of the players belonging to the group were naturally born within a one-year span, they entered the pros in different years depending on how many years they had spent in college, the industrial and/or the independent leagues (if at all). As the term "Matsuzaka Generation" became more commonplace, the media began to refer to a player who was drafted into the NPB in later years because he had enjoyed an established career at the amateur level prior to going pro as The Last Star of the Matsuzaka Generation (松坂世代最後の大物, Matsuzaka Sedai Saigo no Ōmono).
There is no record of any member of this group who went pro straight after high school or spent four years in college (and was thus drafted in 2003) ever being referred to as "The Last Star". The first player known to have been called by this name is current Hanshin Tigers pitcher Yasutomo Kubo, who spent six years in the industrial leagues before being drafted in 2005 despite being a well-known draft prospect since high school who once led his team to the finals of the 80th National High School Baseball Championship (losing to Yokohama Senior High).
Shortstop Eishin Soyogi was also referred to as "The Last Star of the Matsuzaka Generation" when he played well in his rookie season with the Hiroshima Carp in 2006, though the title failed to catch on. (The name has only been used for players with established track records at the amateur level, explaining why players like shortstop Naoto Watanabe were not called "The Last Star" when they were drafted in 2007.)
In 2007, Triple-A Sacramento pitcher Kazuhito Tadano was again referred to as "The Last Star of the Matsuzaka Generation" upon being drafted, though his situation differed in that he was not a true "rookie", having played for the major league team Cleveland Indians from 2004 to 2005. (His situation was complicated due to an appearance in a gay porn film that caused NPB teams to blackball him and force him to play in the United States.)
The last actual player belonging to this age group to go pro is shortstop/third baseman Jobu Morita, who played for Mitsubishi Motors Okazaki of the Japanese industrial leagues, the Elmira Pioneers of the New York Collegiate Baseball League, and the Kagawa Olive Guyners of the independent Shikoku-Kyushu Island League before being drafted by the Golden Eagles in 2008.
The term is typically only used in reference to Japanese players, but the Japanese media has, at times, referred to other (non-Japanese) major leaguers born during the aforementioned span as belonging to the "Matsuzaka Generation", most notably former Red Sox pitchers Josh Beckett and Jonathan Papelbon. Many other established major leagues belong to this age group, including New York Yankees pitcher C.C. Sabathia, Los Angeles Angels pitcher Dan Haren, New York Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson, Houston Astros pitcher Brett Myers, Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino, Chicago White Sox outfielder Alex Ríos, Tampa Bay Rays first/third baseman Hank Blalock, Cleveland Indians first baseman/outfielder Nick Swisher and free agent pitcher Mark Prior.
There are currently 53 active players in Nippon Professional Baseball that belong to the Matsuzaka Generation (excludes foreign players acquired outside of the amateur draft). A total of 94 players belonging to this generation (including all active players) have once been on one of the twelve professional baseball teams' rosters.
Matsuzaka himself and Kazuhito Tadano played for teams in Major League Baseball.
Below is a partial list of said players. It includes only those for which English Wikipedia pages exist (as of 9 October 2010).
Many well-known Japanese athletes as well as celebrities were also born during this aforementioned span.
Below is a partial list of such figures.