Before Tanaka: 5 MLB Success Stories From Japan
After Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports broke the news, various outlets confirmed what many New Yorkers had hoped — that the Yankees got their man. The man, of course, is Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, who recently agreed to a seven-year, $155 million deal. Tanaka, 25 years old, is often referred to as a “phenom,” and boasted incredible numbers in his seven-year career in Nippon Professional Baseball, leading many to argue that he has the best track record of any pitcher coming to the U.S. from the league. Whether or not Tanaka will be successful in MLB remains to be seen, but here are a few others success stories hailing from the Land of the Rising Sun. The following are not ranked in any order.
Nomo, now 45, spent 12 Major League seasons in the U.S. with seven teams. After signing with the L.A. Dodgers in 1995, Nomo (“The Tornado”) became the first Japanese-born Japanese major leaguer to permanently move to Major League Baseball and is largely credited with opening the doors for other Japanese players to do the same. During his tenure in the league, Nomo amassed 123 wins and a 4.24 ERA, throwing two no-hitters. He also won Rookie of the Year in 1995, and led the American League and National League in strikeouts at various points in his career. He was recently elected to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame.
If Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman has anyone to thank for helping him land Tanaka, it might be this former Yankee who taped a message for Tanaka lauding the merits of the New York team. Still, Tanaka is a star in his own right. The slugger retired in 2013 after 10 MLB seasons in which he knocked out 175 HR and 761 RBI in 1,236 games. Though Matsui had stints with other teams in the MLB — e.g. the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays — he played seven seasons with the Yankees and even signed a one-day minor league contract at the end of his career to officially retire as a Yankee.
About Ichiro, sportswriter Bruce Jenkins once wrote, “There’s nobody like Ichiro in either league — now or ever.” The slugger, who started in the league with the Seattle Mariners in 2001, still posts decent numbers with the Yankees and has a list of accolades under his belt. He’s the first Japanese-born “position” player to sign in the major leagues, a 10-time All-Star and 10-time Golden Glove winner, and second on the list for active leaders in stolen bases.
The Red Sox won the 2013 World Series, and Uehara is a big reason why. This 38-year-old closer finished the 2013 regular season with 21 saves, a 4-1 record, a 1.09 ERA, a 0.57 WHIP — the lowest in Major League history — and 101 strikeouts in 74 1/3 innings. Though Uehara began in the MLB in 2009, he’s floated between the Minors and Majors before beginning to cement his status as a cool, calm and reliable closer. “”Every time he walks to the mound,” Red Sox General Manager John Farrell, “it’s one of the most calm innings that we’ll watch, regardless of the stage, regardless of the importance of the game.”
Though Iwakuma is a relative newcomer to the Major Leagues, he’s posted worthwhile numbers during his two seasons with Seattle: He was atop the AL standings in 2013 — third in innings pitched and ERA, and second with a 1.01 WHIP. He also finished third in the American League Cy Young voting and was an MLB All-Star.