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Land of the rising hype
Here's a look at some notable Japanese players and how they have fared in the majors.
By TOM JONES
Published December 15, 2006
So the Red Sox spend $52-million to sign Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. By all reports, he could be a staff ace, a No. 1 starter, an anchor in the rotation. But what if he's Tsuyoshi Shinjo? Who, you ask? Our point, exactly. Shinjo was supposed to be a star, too, but turned out to be all sizzle and no steak, a complete bust. Matsuzaka is hardly the first big-name Japanese player to take his act to the majors. Some have panned out. Others have flamed out. Here's our take on some of the more high-profile Japanese players to play in the majors.
Doesn't matter if he is hitting in Japanese bandboxes or major-league stadiums, the guy can play long ball. Averaged 23 homers in his first three seasons with the Yankees, including 31 in 2004. A wrist injury limited him in 2006, but he still went yard eight times in 51 games. Grade: A
When you're past 30 and you eventually end up with the Rays, your career is barely clinging to life. But that doesn't erase what a solid pitcher he used to be. First, he underwent the scrutiny of being the first Japanese player in 30 years to make the jump to the majors. He was the 1995 rookie of the year and went on to win 16 games three times. Grade: B
Not a great player but solid. In two seasons, he has batted a steady .280 with 33 homers and 138 RBIs. When the White Sox won the 2005 World Series, manager Ozzie Guillen called Iguchi the team's MVP. Ozzie says a lot of goofy things, but he was right about that. Grade: B
From 2000-02, Sasaki averaged 40 saves for the Mariners. But after his fourth season (an injury-plagued one in which he saved only 10) he missed Japan, packed up his bags and returned home. Grade: B+
Only has one season in the bigs with Seattle. But what a season for a catcher: .291 average with 18 home runs and 76 RBIs. Grade: B
This is old school. Murakami is the first Japanese-born player to play in the majors. He played only two seasons with the Giants, but in his last season (1965), the reliever struck out 85 in 741/3 innings. He returned to Japan and pitched another 17 years. Grade: C
Nothing special; he's a lifetime 48-58 pitcher. But he has survived eight years and made 18 starts for the Brewers last season. Grade: C
This guy was supposed to be a stud. Turns out, he has been a dud. Touted as being better than Ichiro, the Mets paid him more than $5-million a season. He's still kicking around the majors, but he was never the star he was projected to be. Grade: D
Great name. That's about all he had going for him. The Dodgers brought him in to be their starter at third in 2005. That experiment lasted a mere 17 games, in which Nakamura went 5-for-39 and was never heard from again. Grade: F
Remember this guy? We only do because the dude had purple hair. He certainly didn't have a colorful bat. In 62 games with the Mets in 2003, he hit a Mendoza-like .193 and took his dye job back to Japan. Grade: F
Had the stereotypical Japanese pitching career in the majors. He fooled hitters for a season, going 14-10 as a rookie with the Dodgers in 2002. But hitters figured him out, and he was gone after four seasons. Still, he had a winning record (39-34). Grade: C-
The guy made more than $15-million in his six major-league seasons, and our guess is he spent most of it on Big Macs. Each season, his waistline grew bigger and his effectiveness grew slimmer. The pitcher finished 34-35 with 16 saves (all in 2002, his final season). Grade: C-
The pitcher had all the hype, too but ended up with a journeyman's career: five years, three teams and a 32-47 record. Grade: D
Off to a good start. Last season with the Dodgers, Saito went 6-2 with 24 saves. Grade: B
Ain't it the luck of the Devil Rays. Mori, left, is supposed to be a heck of a reliever, but he blew out his shoulder before the season even started. Hopes to return next season. Grade: Incomplete
Clearly the best of the Japanese imports. Not only is he the best Japanese player to play in the majors, the Mariners rightfielder is one of the best players in the majors period. Six All-Star selections. Six Gold Gloves. The 2001 Most Valuable Player. Grade: A+