I could not sleep at all last night. Lucky for me, there's actual real live baseball on TV this morning thanks to MLB's odd choice to start the season in Japan a good week before the rest of the season. I am all for the Japan Series, I just find the timing odd. My Mets were in the first one of these with the Cubs 12 years ago and I remember waking up at the butt crack of dawn to watch those games too. Japanese baseball crowds are fun to watch and listen to. They sing, chant, and make a lot of noise. When I finally break down and leave the United States, I am going to Tokyo and I am gonna make sure it is during baseball season. This all got me to thinking about Japanese players.
America's love affair with players from the Far East, of course, started with Hideo Nomo:
Nomo became the prototype for Japanese pitchers in the US. A couple years of dominance and popularity, followed by injury and mediocrity. I don't know if this has to happen to all Japanese pitchers, it just seems to have happened to all of them. Nomo, though, was first and probably best.
My love affair with Japanese players, on the Mets anyway, begins and ends with Tsuyoshi Shinjo:
He had style, flair, panache. I wish the Mets had given him more
of a chance because when he was healthy, he was a fun scrappy player.
Sadly, they jerked him around, shipped him out of town, then brought him
back and didn't play him. Wait, the Mets mishandled a player? Say it
No breakdown of Japanese players would be complete without Ichiro:
What can you say about him that hasn't already be said? He's an absolute artist on the ball field. I have seen very few players like that, no matter where they were born. I don't think the question is if he belongs in the Hall of Fame, but should he go in on the first ballot. Plus, dig that Upper Deck card with Mr. Met. I wish I had a whole page of just that card. We have recently seen, more and more, that Ichiro is a bit of a jokester. I wish he has shown this side earlier.
The Yankees have a hit or miss record with Japanese free agents. The big hit, of course, was Godzilla!
Matsui is the only Yankee of recent vintage I did not despise with every fiber of my being.
The misses, on the other hand, have been huge. Kei Igawa (not shown) is the absolute king of them. As of last year, Igawa was still pitching in the minor leagues, playing out the ill-advised gigantic contract the Yankees gave him with Michael Scott in Scranton-Wilkes Barre. I saw him pitch a couple years ago at a Durham Bulls game in North Carolina. He got lit up for like 6 runs in 2 innings. I have never seen a player look more defeated when, after about the fourth double in a row, Igawa looked into the dugout practically begging to be pulled out of the game and no one came. I actually felt sorry for him. Of course, I also heckled him like a New Yorker would and got a lot of gasps from the more congenial southern crowd.
The other Hideki - Irabu - also did not turn out quite the way everyone imagined, but the man just passed prematurely, so I will not speak ill of the dead.
I will, however, speak ill of the living. The Mets, at the same time the Yanks got Hideki Matsui, signed Kazuo Matsui, which was a total disaster. He wouldn't move positions (why the Mets signed him when they had Jose Reyes is besides the point - they got the wrong Matsui), he had one good week to start out, and then settled in to be a little more exciting than tapioca pudding. I am very bitter about Kaz Matsu, I bought a ton of his cards; the three of them that are left are shown here. It's not the money, mind you, it is the sour memories. Loving a sports team is a lot like loving a person sometimes in that respect. The Mets have also signed about 50 different middle relievers from the Far East - one of them, Hisanori Takahashi, is shown on this page as well - none of them lasted more than a season of two. Who is Jinten Haku? I had to look him up myself; apparently, he was a pretty decent player for a long time. That card has been in my collection for as long as I can remember...it is a 1979 TCMA card.
And then there is Dice-K.
Dice-K should have been...could have been. He showed flashes of such brilliance, then fell into the same pattern all other Japanese pitchers have. Plus, he got fat. I mean try-out-as-a-Sumo-wrestler fat. I know $51 million is a lot of money, but was it too much to ask you to buy a stationary bike alongwith all those cheeseburgers?
For anyone who wants to invest in Yu Darvish cards, remember Matsuzaka.