10 Foreign Player Stories

» 28 August 2009 » In npb »

There are a couple of editions of Shukan Baseball that I look forward to each year: the issue on breaking pitches, the series of issues leading up to the draft, and the mid-season issue on foreign players in Japan. I picked up foreign players issue on my last trip to Kinokuniya, and this year’s edition has a photobook of all 908 foreign players who have been on the payroll of an NPB team. Every time I get a magazine like this I learn something new, so here’s a few things from this year’s edition, plus a few of my own.

Jose’s twin Ozzie Canseco spent part of 1991 playing for Kintetsu, but never escaped the ni-gun team, where he hit .271 with eight homers.

Frank Ortenzio’s name was officially registered on Nankai’s roster in Kanji as 王天上 rather than the usual Katakana, which would have been オーテンジョウ or something similar.

Don Newcombe was a star pitcher for the Dodgers in the 1950’s, but played the outfield for Chunichi in 1962. He hit .262 with 12 home runs in 81 games. One of Newcombe’s Chunichi teammates was color-line pioneer Larry Doby.

Matt Stairs played for Chunichi way back in 1993, prior to having any MLB success.

Korean pitcher Cho Son-Min had the longest contract in NPB history, a eight-year deal with the Giants signed prior to 1996. Over the life of the contract he only appeared in 53 games, posting a 2.84 era.

Dave Nilsson played for Chunichi in 2000, so he could represent Australia in that year’s Summer Olympics. He went by “Dingo” during his brief stay in Japan.

Marty Keough played for Nankai in the 60’s; his son Matt Keough played for Hanshin in the 80’s. Now Matt’s son Shane Keough is a minor leaguer in the A’s system — possible third generation suketto?

This isn’t really notworthy, but a guy I really liked when I was living in Japan was Chang Chih-Chia from Taiwan. I thought he’d be a good pitcher for a long time, but weight and injury problems derailed his career. He was back in Taiwan last season, and even though he’s still just 29 years old it seems as though his best days as a pitcher are behind him. BR Bullpen has a chronicle of his rise and fall.

Some pretty good MLB players signed to play in Japan while the players were still striking in 1995: Shane Mack, Kevin Mitchell, Julio Franco, Darrin Jackson. Of course, Mitchell didn’t pan out, but the other guys did okay.

Alex Ramirez’s step-son, Alex jr, had been in Yakult’s farm system while sr was with the ichi-gun team. I didn’t realize that until about a week ago, jr had been with Kochi of the independent Island League.

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  1. Patrick
    John Brooks
    28/08/2009 at 11:51 am Permalink

    Yeah, I found a long time ago that Newcombe was an outfielder, but first a first baseman, when asked about his time in NPB he said:

    It was a great experience. I went over because I was playing a position I had never played before — first base. I didn’t do very well as a first baseman so they moved me to right field but I didn’t do very well there. But in left field, I made just two errors in 80 games. I adjusted to it and adapted to it and it turned out pretty well for me.


    I always thought Julio Franco left the first time b/c of the way Valentine was fired by Hirooka and say he never play for a team with him as GM. He later came back to NPB in 98, played in Korea, and Mexico.

    As for Matt Stairs, I have baseball cards around the house of him prior going to Japan.

  2. Patrick
    28/08/2009 at 12:38 pm Permalink

    Franco did leave because of Hirooka — I remember a quote about Hirooka telling Franco how to wear his socks, and Franco taking offense to that. I grew up cheering for the White Sox, and Julio Franco was great in 1994. I was so disappointed when he left.

  3. Patrick
    30/08/2009 at 12:57 pm Permalink

    Off topic, but do you think, Patrick, that the Democratic Party’s new control over Japan will have an effect on Japanese baseball?

  4. Patrick
    30/08/2009 at 9:08 pm Permalink

    That’s an interesting question. I’m afraid I don’t know enough about the political situation to be able to comment intelligently. My uninformed guess, however, would be that I don’t think there will be much of an affect.

    As an aside, it’s interesting to a change after a series of uninspired Prime Ministers since the departure of Koizumi.