Tag Archive > Junichi Tazawa

Looking at Player Movement Rules

» 17 December 2012 » In nichibei, npb » 2 Comments

This offseason, I’ve come across three proposals to change the rules governing player personnel. At first glance, it didn’t seem that these ideas are thematically linked, but after giving it some thought, I think they are reflective of a league that is living less in the shadow of a dominant team, the Yomiuri Giants, and more in the shadow of Major League baseball. These ideas seem to be more aimed at retaining talent league-wide than deferring to the local top dog.

  • Rakuten manager Senichi Hoshino has suggested that NPB do away with it’s first-round lottery/drawing process and change to a complete waiver process, in which teams select in reverse order of their records.

NPB has experimented a lot with it’s draft procedures over the years, but a concept that’s mostly stuck around is the first round nyusatsu chusen (bid and drawing) system. Under this format, rather than selecting in order, each team chooses the player it wants, and if multiple teams pick the same player, the teams draw cards for his rights. After the first round, the rest of the draft continues with the teams choosing in the order of their records, last to first in even-numbered rounds and first to last in odd-numbered rounds. Hoshino thinks it would be better for competitive balance to have the teams choose in reverse order of their records in all the rounds.

The more rational side of my brain agrees with Hoshino. Assuming the bad teams aren’t bad because of poor talent evaluation, the worst teams would be have a uncontested path to the best amateurs and likely be able to rebuild faster. And I’ve always assumed that the drawing method was used to allow Yomiuri to have a chance at drafting the top amateurs, and that’s always felt kind of unethical. So far I’m with Hoshino.

The more strategic part of my brain, though, kind of likes the idea of introducing an artificial inefficiency into the process. It changes the risk/reward equation. Teams will sometimes go straight to the mid-first-round talent, avoiding the drawings for the consensus top players in an effort to be assured a prospect. Occaisionally teams will go all in and gamble their picks on signability challenges, as Nippon Ham has notably done in each of the last two years.

Overall though, it probably doesn’t matter. The NPB draft is a roll of the dice, and the more successful pros come out of the later rounds (Ichiro was a 4th round pick). Still, the top consensus picks are usually the best prospects, and frequently gate attractions as well. My recommendation would be to keep the drawing, but weighting it so that the teams with the worse records have better odds of securing the contested player.

NPB instituted this rule as a deterrent for players looking to following in the footsteps of Junichi Tazawa, who skipped out on the NPB draft to sign with the Red Sox in 2008. The idea on the table is to give the drafting NPB priority on signing the player if he goes to MLB and later wants to come back to Japan. So if Shohei Ohtani had spurned Nippon Ham and followed through on his intent to play in MLB, and then later wanted to come back, Nippon Ham would have the first crack at him.

My preference, and what I think will eventually happen, is to do away with the rule completely. This rule is just an idle threat anyway; if Tazawa wanted to play in NPB and he could fill stadiums (both moot points currently), I’m sure the NPB brass would let him in.

Pretty much everyone seems to hate the Posting System. The lone exception is a majority bloc of NPB owners, who voted to keep it unchanged in 2010, when Rakuten proposed giving the top three MLB bidders negotiating rights to posted player. For all it’s flaws, the Posting System has pumped approximately $165m in revenue in to NPB over the last dozen years, though the majority has come from three postings: Daisuke Matsuzaka (Seibu), Kei Igawa (Hanshin) and Yu Darvish (Nippon Ham).

Despite the lopsided largesse of it, I think the NPB owners designed the Posting System as more of a deterrent to make it harder for top players to leave than a source of revenue. Players rightfully dislike it because of the limitations it places on them, MLB owners don’t like the expense of it, and some NPB owners feel it makes the league weaker by allowing stars to leave.

So what would be better? Well, let’s focus on the positives of the Posting System, of which I see a couple: it allows NPB teams to get some compensation for players they are going to lose as free agents anyway; it shortens NPB players’ paths to lucrative MLB careers, though at the expense of leverage; it gives MLB clubs full pre-free agency rights to the players.

I argued for an open auction after the failed Hisashi Iwakuma posting a couple years ago, but I think I’ll change my preference to a completely open system, where NPB teams can negotiate openly for transfer fees with MLB clubs. I’d also like to see MLB clubs pay some token compensation (maybe $200k) for signing NPB free agents to Major League deals.

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Who Is Shohei Otani?

» 18 October 2012 » In mlb prospects, nichibei, npb draft » 4 Comments

Okay, so the cat is out of the bag about high school pitching prospect Shohei Otani. Here’s everything I know about him.

I first found out about Otani about a year ago, when Yakyu Kozoh had a story on potential successors to Yu Darvish. Otani caught my eye because he graded a perfect 5/5 “Darvishes” and, at 17, he was the youngest pitcher profiled. Every tall, young righty elicits some kind of comparison to Darvish from the Japanese media, so Otani is not unique in that regard. What is a little more unique is that in terms of physique and ability, the comparison stands up reasonably well. At 193 cm (6’4) and 86 kg (189 lbs), Otani measures similarly to Darvish, though a little shorter and perhaps a little heavier than Darvish was at 18. Otani also has a similarly live arm, though with a little more velocity and a lot less polish than Darvish exhibited as a high schooler.

I’ve only seen one Otani pitch one full game, his appearance in this spring’s Koshien Senbatsu tournament against fellow draft phenom Shintaro Fujinami. It was a frustrating game to watch, as the raw quality of Otani’s stuff was evident, but his command was non-existent. He featured a fastball ranging from about 145-152 km/h (90-95 mph), a slider around 132-136 km/h (82-84 mph) and curve around 125 km/h (77 mph). Everything had movement, and his wildness was of the effective variety until the 6th inning, when he and his defense faltered, before melting down (video) in the 7th. For the day, Otani struck out 11, walked 11 and gave up nine runs (five earned) while taking the loss. That looks bad, but Otani was facing a quality lineup with aluminum bats on a big stage, and his manager left him out for 173 pitches. The raw talent is there, but it was clearly just that in that game – raw.

Helpfully, the Koko Yakyu site live-blogged this game in English, so it is available for your perusal.

I didn’t see the July 19 prefectural tournament game that Otani has since become known for, when he hit 160 km/h (99 mph) on the scoreboard gun, but I did Tweet about it when it happened. I’ve since found about 14 minutes worth of Otani footage from that game (skip to the 7:58 mark if you want to see the 160 km/h fastball). Obviously the 14 minutes we have are biased, but Otani appears to be a lot more confident with his stuff than he was in the Senbatsu game, and accordingly his command is much better. Grains of salt apply; he was facing weaker competition and the stadium gun was hot, as the scouts in attendance had his velocity a bit lower. Still, an even more limited set of highlights from his appearance in the IBAF 18U tournament implies that he’s capable of better command than he showed in the spring.

So Otani is a prospect, and an excellent one at that. If his command was better I might call him the best high school pitching prospect I’ve seen in the 12 years or so that I’ve been paying attention, but for now I think that distinction will remain with Hayato Terahara. My preferred print publications Shukan Baseball and Yakyu Kozoh have him at the top of this year’s draft class, and NPB Prospect Watch ranks him third, noting his command issues but also his excellent track record as a batter. Draft Reports has a long list of comments from scouts on him, too many to translate individually but unanimously in praise of his potential. A couple of notable comments were from the Dodgers’ Logan White, who said that he went to Japan just to see Otani, and the Rays’ Tim Ireland, who compared him to Felix Hernandez.

What happens now? The NPB draft will take place on October 25, and Otani has declared eligible. As of September he was 50/50 on NPB vs MLB, but some Japanese media outlets seem convinced that he’s headed to MLB. I’m not sure if I find those reports credible just yet. Otani has met with the Dodgers, Red Sox and Rangers, and had a meeting with the Orioles that he couldn’t get on to his schedule. Otani will not meet with any more MLB clubs. One wrinkle that Otani will have to consider is that if he signs with an MLB club, he’ll be barred from joining an NPB team for a period of three years after he leaves MLB, under a rule enacted after Junichi Tazawa signed with Boston.

Coincidently, Otani attends Hanamaki Higashi high school in Iwate Prefecture, the school that produced lefty Yusei Kikuchi. Kikuchi was a similarly hot prospect back in 2009, and went through his own dramatic NPB/MLB decision in which he was publicly courted by all 12 NPB teams and eight MLB teams before choosing to remain in Japan. The Otani situation has not developed in to the same kind of media frenzy that the Kikuchi situation did, which is good  because the stress clearly took it’s toll on Kikuchi. Perhaps Hanamaki manager Hiroshi Sasaki is applying the experience he had with Kikuchi to this year’s edition.

We should know which way Otani is headed in the next week or so. Wherever he winds up it’ll be fun to see how he develops.

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Grains of Salt

» 03 December 2011 » In mlb prospects, nichibei » 11 Comments

So unsurprisingly, I’m getting questions this offseason about how guys like Tsuyoshi Wada, Hiroyuki Nakajima and Wei Yin Chen project as MLB prospects. Truth be told, trying project established guys from NPB to MLB always makes me a little nervous. I don’t feel like I’m that great at it, so I decided to go back and look at my public track record, to give you the chance to decide if I’m worth listening to.

Here’s what I found:

  • Koji Uehara — I was bullish on him when he moved across the Pacific; injury history had me questioning whether he could start; he was one of my favorite guys to watch in Japan and I’m glad he’s done well.
  • Kenshin Kawakami – My synopsis was “mid-rotation guy you can win with“. In retrospect that was a little aggressive; he was more like a competent #4 guy before the Braves decided to bury him.
  • Hitoki Iwase – I thought his stuff would translate to MLB, particularly after watching Scott Downs pitch; he obviously never moved to MLB.
  • Junichi Tazawa — I really liked his stuff, but also expected him to hit a wall somewhere. He reached the majors before hitting a wall, which really impressed me.
  • Ken Takahashi – I predicted “a little bit of an uphill battle” for Tak1, but also thought he could be a useful pitcher. He basically was for his year in the Mets organization, though his career ended immediately after returning to Hiroshima.
  • Ken Kadokura – Remember when he signed with the Cubs? I felt like he had something left in the tank, but he wound up getting dropped by the Cubs at the end of spring training and went on to have a few good years in Korea.
  • Hisanori Takahashi – I liked Tak2 a lot better as a reliever than a starter; that one turned out to be true.
  • Ryota Igarashi — I don’t think I made an explicit prediction for Igarashi, but I thought he would do okay. He didn’t seem to trust his stuff in his first year, and though he did better in year two, he went from “effectively wild” in NPB to just “wild” with the Mets.
  • Chang-Yong Lim – Like Igarashi I don’t know that I really made an explicit prediction for him, though I really liked his stuff. I still do. Lim is still with Yakult and not a free agent, and I doubt we’ll ever see him in MLB.
  • Colby Lewis – I found reasons to be optimistic about Lewis in his return to the Rangers, but he certainly has exceeded my expectations.
  • Tsuyoshi Nishioka – Over at Fangraphs, I called Nishioka a “Chone Figgins/Ryan Theriot type”. What I meant by that was that he could be an infielder who would get on base but have minimal power, and play decent defense. I didn’t see him flaming out in year one the way he did.
  • Hisashi Iwakuma — Also at Fangraphs, I put Iwakuma’s upside at mid-rotation, noting he has to keep his forkball and he will probably regress some in innings pitched. I still mostly think this is the case, assuming he’s healthy. We’ll find out next year.
  • Yoshinori Tateyama – I never published much of anything about Tateyama, though I have an unfinished draft still sitting on Fangraphs, where I intended to make the case that he could be an MLB ROOGY/righty specialist. There was little original thought there, as he was dominant against righties in 2010 for Nippon Ham. In 2011 he exhibited a similar split for the Rangers, with a 2.04 against righties, versus 7.71 against lefties.

I kind of set out to prove that I’m not that great at these predictions, so I was surprised that the results here actually weren’t too bad. I seemed to do all right with Uehara, Tak1 and Tak2, while I probably underestimated Lewis and over-predicted Nishioka. The Nishioka flop makes me worry that I don’t know how to project position players. I think overall though, it’s pretty clear that I tend to see the glass as half-full with these guys as prospects. I also noticed here was that I seem to look at specific skills and how they might translate, rather than trying to project specific stats. Maybe I’m more of a scout than a numbers guy at heart.

That said, there are plenty of things I’ve been wrong about, I just haven’t always had a platform like this to assert my wrongness. If NPB Tracker had been around, however, I would have told you that…

  • …of the two Matsuis, Kazuo was the far better MLB prospect. I was a huge fan of Kazuo’s; I saw him as a five-tool player.
  • Kei Igawa’s changeup was going to be a good MLB pitch.
  • Nagisa Arakaki was Japan’s next great pitcher.
  • So Taguchi wouldn’t have anything to offer to and MLB club.

…and so on.

So you might see me make a few statements on how I think the 2012 NPB imports may perform after they cross the Pacific. I’ll let you decide the appropriate measure of salt to take them with.

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NPB Bullet Points: Scales, Melian, Arakaki, Sugano

» 28 June 2011 » In mlb prospects, nichibei, npb » 2 Comments

Updates on some NPB Tracker favorites and a name that long-time Baseball America readers will find familiar.
  • Bobby Scales is on his way to Japan to play for Nippon Ham. I had Scales on my list last offseason, and again a couple weeks ago, so it’s safe to say he’s an NPB Tracker favorite. According to Nikkan Sports, Ham intends to use him to fill the gap left by the currently injured Kensuke Tanaka.
  • Another NPB Tracker favorite, Nagisa Arakaki, is rehabbing a ni-gun with an eye toward his first ichi-gun appearance in over two years. Arakaki is scrapping his once-feared slider.
  • The other day I happened across a news item saying that former Yankees prospect Jackson Melian is active in Japan with the independent Kobe Suns, who are managed by former Major Leaguer Mac Suzuki. He’s only hitting .175 though.
  • Here’s a pic of the scouting contingent at Tokai University pitcher Tomoyuki Sugano’s last game. The group included scouting representation from at least one MLB team. Sugano is high on Yomiuri’s radar for this season’s draft.
  • Yet another NPB Tracker favorite, Junichi Tazawa, failed to last a full inning in his first appearance off the DL. Tazawa gave up six runs in 2/3 of an inning.
  • Shame on me for not finding the English-language Hanshin Tigers Page and including it in this year’s blogosphere post.

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Post-Quake News

» 16 March 2011 » In npb » 7 Comments

With northern Japan still not out of the woods, baseball has rightfully taken a backseat in the news. But there is already news about the charitable activity of NPB players, as well as discussion about when NPB’s season should begin, and I’d like to share those items tonight. No opinion here, just news.

And finally I and my family have made small contributions to Global Giving and Save The Children, and are researching other organizations. If anyone has any suggestions, I’m all ears.

 

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Darvish Offers First Hint at MLB Interest

» 28 March 2010 » In nichibei, npb » 7 Comments

Author’s note: It wasn’t until I saw my translation quoted on mlbtraderumors.com that I noticed that I mis-translated Darvish’s metaphor. He said that he was “planning on climbing the staircase” not the “ladder”. Correct meaning, wrong word. It’s been fixed.

Just as soon as I publish my latest “don’t expect Yu Darvish in MLB any time soon” article, this news breaks.

Last Friday, Nikkan Sports ran a story saying that Darvish could make his way to the Majors via the posting system as early as this offseaon. This coincided with the Yankees sending Japan area scout Shoichi Kida to watch Darvish’s Saturday start against the Marines. I dismissed the article as speculation because it didn’t include a quote from a named source. The Yankees watching Darvish isn’t exactly news any more. They employ a full-time scout in Japan and sent Gene Michael to watch him back in 2008.

Then, in a story published on March 29th, Sponichi managed to get a couple quotes from Darvish himself. On being scouted: “evaluation? that’s for others to decide.” In response to a question about moving to MLB in the future: “well, I’m planning on climbing the staircase, step by step.”

Sponichi is usually pretty good with this kind of stuff: they had Junichi Tazawa going to the Red Sox long before anyone else, and mostly stayed out of the Hideki Matsui nonsense last year. And nothing in that quote suggests a posting is on the offing in the near future, and this hasn’t shown up in any of the other sports dailies. But it does seemingly represent a softening of his stance towards staying in Japan, and given Darvish’s stature, that’s newsworthy enough for this site.

Sponichi also points out that the soonest Darvish will become eligible for international free agency would be some time during the 2014 season. To me, it doesn’t make sense for Nippon Ham to post Darvish until it becomes clear that they’re going to lose him, and their contractual control over his services is about to expire. I suppose it might be possible to leverage domestic, NPB-only free agency into a posting, but no one has tried that yet.

By the way, Kida saw a strong outing by Darvish, in which he struck out 11 over six innings of work. He got into trouble in thei first, but he had his good slider and made Saburo look like a fool in a basees-loaded situation in the first inning. Velocity chart here.

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Japan & The Dominican Republic

» 02 February 2010 » In international baseball » 6 Comments

Last week, after Jorge Arangure broke the news that Dominican prospect Rafael DePaula’s MLB signing ban had been lifted, I exchanged a few “tweets” with Jorge and Keith Law, centered around my post about DePaula’s consideration of Japan last summer. Sometimes 140 characters isn’t enough.
@keithlaw: @npbtracker I’m not sure why no suspended player has tried Japan, or even Italy or Holland. Go make some coin and keep playing for scouts.

Practically speaking, it doesn’t make sense for NPB teams to sign suspended prospects, assuming that they are a) not ready to contribute at the top level in Japan and b) only willing to sign short-term contracts. I was bullish on DePaula trying Japan last summer — with the caveat that he’d be willing to make a long-term commitment (looking back, I wasn’t clear enough about this in my post). Certainly a number of Taiwanese players, and some Dominicans have signed with Japanese teams as amateurs and done well.

Holland’s Honkbal Hoofdklasse is really a semi-pro league, and each team is only allowed one non-EU citizen roster spot (for more check out this post), so that seems like a little more of a longshot. I remember reading about some Dominican prospects trying to play in Taiwan, but I couldn’t find anything on that. Maybe a knowledgeable NPB Tracker reader will know something about that.

@jorgearangure: @npbtracker do you know how much Japanese teams scout the DR these days?

5:00 PM Jan 27th from TweetDeck in reply to npbtracker

The Carp have an Academy in the Dominican, from which they recently brought a couple of players to Japan. Pitcher Wilfreiser Guerrero was in the Carp’s Academy in 2007, followed by two years of independent ball in Japan, and has now joined the Carp as an ikusei (development) player. Dioni Soriano, another pitcher, joined the Carp last season after following a similar pattern. Hiroshima also added two pitchers as “practice” players this offseason: Juan Javier (22) and Jose Lauriano (20)*. Javier initially lied about his age and identity, claiming to be 16.

The Chunichi Dragons don’t have a Dominican academy, but scout the Winter League heavily and have signed quite a few players over the last few years, including four this offseason.  Unlike the Carp, as far as I know Chunichi has only signed players with at least some professional experience with MLB organizations. They do take younger guys without much upper-level minor league experience though.

Beyond that, the SoftBank Hawks showed some interest last offseason about finding an independent Dominican baseball academy to establish ties with, but I never read anything about it beyond the initial report. The Yomiuri Giants have had some success developing Wirfin Obispo, who signed as a 22 year-old and put up a solid showing last year in his first real test at the top level. Yomiuri has an academy in China but not in the Dominican.

Up to this point, the main international market Japanese teams recruit amateur talent from is Taiwan (Chen Wei-Yin, Chang Chih-Chia). My opinion is that if NPB is going to miss out on top Japanese talent, like Junichi Tazawa, the best way to stay competitive would be to sign more talented amateur players as international free agents. NPB teams will never be in the mix for the Michel Ynoa-class prospects, but could reasonably compete for players in the $300k-$500k bonus range.

*Note: I guessed the spellings of Javier’s and Lauriano’s names, as I only had them available in katakana.

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Top 10 Events of 2009

» 28 December 2009 » In mlb, nichibei, npb, npb draft » 2 Comments

2009 went by super fast. Here are my top ten events in Japanese baseball for the year that was.

10. Koji Uehara, Kenshin Kawakami sign with MLB teams; Yomiuri, Chunichi don’t notice. Uehara and Kawakami both signed with MLB clubs early in 2009, meanwhile, their former teams finished 1-2 in the Central League, with Yomiuri taking the Japan Series Championship.

9. Tuffy Rhodes hits 450th NPB home run. Tuffy continued his remarkable comeback in 2009, reaching 450 homers early in the season. A healthy 2010 will see him reach 500.

8. Rakuten makes first ever post season appearance as Katsuya Nomura retires. Rakuten to reached the second round of the playoffs in their fifth year of existence and appears to have a bright near-term future. Nomura restored his legacy with Rakuten after arguably failing to revive Hanshin and his wife’s ugly tax fraud problems.

7. Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium opens. Japan’s first new stadium in years opens to rave reviews, and while the Carp look competitive at times, they ultimately slump to a fifth-place finish.

6. Yusei Kikuchi stays in Japan; gets selected by only six teams in draft. After a lengthy cross-Pacific courting process, Kikuchi gave into social pressures and choose to stay in Japan and enter the NPB draft. After speculation that he could get picked by 10 or 11 teams,he winds up getting taken by six, with the remaining six teams grabbing other players uncontested. He eventually signs a max contract with Seibu.

5. Hideki Matsui wins World Series MVP. Matsui leaves NY in style with a dominant World Series performance, despite not starting any of the games played in Philadelphia.

4. Bobby Valentine leaves Marines. Bobby V goes back to Connecticut after a successful six-year run with Chiba Lotte, in which he turned around a moribund franchise and became one of the finest advocates for Japanese baseball in the West.

3. Yomiuri wins first title since 2002. It took seven years for Yomiuri to win a Japan Series post-Matsui. The Giants won three times in his ten-year Giants career (1994, 2000, 2002).

2. Ichiro collects 200 hits for ninth straight year. ’nuff said.

1. Japan wins second straight WBC title. Japan is now 2-2 in WBC appearances, avenging its embarrassing 2008 Olypmic loss.

Honorable mentions: Junichi Tazawa reaches MLB in first pro season; great Koshien finale; Yu Darvish/Alex Ramirez win MVPs; Hanshin re-imports Kenji Johjima

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Sorting Through the Igarashi News

» 16 December 2009 » In mlb prospects » 9 Comments

Update, Wednesday night: Igarashi has indeed signed with the Mets.

Yesterday, I passed along (via Twitter) a Sponichi report saying that the Red Sox were in the lead for Ryota Igarashi with a two-year deal worth $2-3m. This ran counter to the NY Times report from earlier in the day saying that Igarashi was near a deal with the Mets.

Twitter, being limited to 140 characters per post, doesn’t allow for much detail, so here’s some context from the Sponichi article:

  • Igarashi spent a day training with Daisuke Matsuzaka in Arizona. Sponichi doesn’t mention this, but I’ve read elsewhere that they had planned to train together for two days.
  • Igarashi got to ask Matsuzaka quite a bit about Boston’s camp and training programs. Said Igarashi: “the things we talked about were interesting, and I enjoyed it. I only know a little bit, but it’s totally different [from Japan]. It reduced my stress.”
  • Sponichi also points out that “diving into a new environment on a team that already has three Japanese pitchers, Matsuzaka, Hideki Okajima, Junichi Tazawa is an appealing point.” This is a quote from the article, not Igarashi.
  • This might be a function of the limitations of Twitter, but the term I translated as “Red Sox in the lead” comes across more directly as “Red Sox one step ahead”.

And a couple of other things to consider…

These are just my observations based on what’s been in the media — I don’t have my own sources on this one. As an observer, I could see this going either way. Both Boston and New York are appealing destinations, every team needs bullpen depth, and the dollar figures being reported are peanuts to either team.

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Daisempai

» 23 November 2009 » In nichibei, npb » 4 Comments

Long before Yusei Kikuchi entertained eight MLB suitors, before Junichi Tazawa rattled the cage by skipping NPB to sign with the Red Sox, before MLB teams first took note of Yu Darvish, before Daisuke Matsuzaka attracted $51m in posting money, before Hideo Nomo ‘retired’, before Masanori Murakami became the first Japanese player to reach the majors, before Walter O’Malley tried to acquire Shigeo Nagashima, there was Eiji Sawamura.

November 20 marked the 75th anniversary of Sawamura’s famous one-hit loss to the touring team of American all-stars. Sawamura, then 17, struck out Hall of Famers Lou Gerhig, Babe Ruth and  Jimmie Foxx, but surrendered a solo home run in the 7th to Gerhig, which was all the Americans needed to win 1-0.

The Americans responded to the loss by trying to sign Sawamura. There are various retellings, but the story goes that a Pirates scout asked Sawamura to “autograph” a contract. Connie Mack also tried to acquire him for the A’s, perhaps in a more above the board way. Sawamura refused and eventually went pro in Japan, but died in World War II. the Sawamura Award was established by NPB in 1947 (pre-dating the Cy Young Award).

The word “sempai” (先輩) roughly translates to “one who came before” or “senior”, like an older kid at school, or Nomo to Matsuzaka. Prepend it with a “dai” (大), meaning “big”, and you get “daisempai” (大先輩), as in someone who went to the school school, but graduated long before you even started. In a sense, Sawamura was the earliest predecessor to all the players I mentioned in the first paragraph.

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