So Japan and the United States’ economies are in tatters – both in recession. That doesn’t mean all commerce is down. If the New York Yankees have taught us anything (besides not tagging anything Derek Jeter has without a rubber) it’s that Major League Baseball is impervious to the global economic crisis.
And so the Atlanta Braves and Baltimore Orioles have dove head first – Kamikaze-style if you will – into the Pacific Rim Arms Race as both teams signed their respective franchise’s first Japanese-born player.
Oddly enough, both are 33-years old and each comes to the U.S. with exactly 112 career victories in Japan’s Central League. We’re not exactly sure how Atlanta GM Frank Wren and his Baltimore counterpart Andy MacPhail chose between the pair, but we think it went something like this:
“Hmm. I’ll take Koji, you take Kenshin.”
“Which one is Koji?”
“I’ll take the one on the left, you take the one on the right.”
Kawakami, 33, was the 2004 Central League MVP and has won 112 games in 11 seasons. Last season, he finished 9-5 with the Chunichi Dragons and missed three weeks because of a back strain while pitching in a six-man rotation. A crafty veteran, Kawakami is said to have a 90 mph fastball, a slow curveball and a very good cutter.
With Kawakami in tow and the signing of Derek Lowe this week, the Braves rotation has seen nearly a complete overhaul. Atlanta also brought Javier Vazquez into the fold and with holdovers Tim Hudson and Jair Jurrjens (13-10, 3.68 ERA), the Braves have positioned themselves to be competitive again in the NL East.
Despite the economic investment, Kawakami’s spot in the rotation isn’t guaranteed with Jorge Campillo around. All Campillo did was go 8-7 with a 3.91 ERA last season as a rookie. But from what I’ve seen so far (which isn’t much – YouTube videos), I like. Dude has a little Carlos Zambrano to him.
With Kawakami choosing Atlanta over Baltimore, the Orioles went with Koji Uehara, who they signed to a two-year, $10 million deal.
Uehera, 33, spent 10 years with the Yomiuri Giants and went 112-62 with a 3.01 ERA. A two-time Japanese Central League Pitcher of the Year recipient, Uehera has 56 complete games to his credit and has struck out 1,376 batters in his career compared to just 206 walks.
In the 2006 World Baseball Classic, Uehara went 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA.
No joke, the dude looks pretty good. About 45 seconds in watch him strike out Barry Bonds (three times), Jason Giambi (twice) and Torii Hunter.
The Orioles need pitching, so Koji could have a more immediate effect than Kawakami. Here’s a scouting report.
Japanese imports are a tricky proposition. For every Hideo Nomo and Daisuke Matsuzaka there are four Kei Igawa and Tomokazu Ohka types.
One thing is for sure, all imports want to avoid the path of Kazuhito Tadano. You remember Tadano don’t you? A stud scholastic pitcher who showed up stateside after no Japanese team drafted him in 2002. Why did they stay away? Tadano was caught in the middle of gay porn video scandal. Yup.
Cleveland signed Tadano in 2003. Word soon spread about Tadano’s gay Japanese porn and in Jan. 2004, Tadano called a press conference to address the situation. “I was young, playing baseball, and going to college and my teammates and I needed money,” and “I’m not gay.”
He was traded to Oakland in 2006, but never pitched for the A’s big league club. Last year, he was the first pick by the Nippon Ham Fighters, who are named after the team’s majority shareholding company Nippon Meat Packers, Inc. You seriously can’t make this shit up.
First things first. We’ve already told you about Rumors and Rants favorite Tom Mastny’s sale by Cleveland to the Yokohama BayStars. Well joining Tommy in Yokohama is first baseman Dan Johnson, who signed a one-year $1.2 million contract with the BayStars.
Johnson, 29, played four years in the majors and hit .248 with 44 home runs and 161 RBIs with Oakland and Tampa Bay. Makes me wonder what kind of money Tommy’s looking at.
Another free swinging stiff, Eric Hinske, is apparently being looked at by the SoftBank Hawks.
But perhaps more important than fringe major leaguers cashing in and adapting to small doorways is the decision by Major League Baseball to open an official MLB restaurant – the first of its kind – in Tokyo.
Scheduled to open Sept. 17 in Ebisu, Tokyo, the restaurant will serve meals found at MLB ballparks, but also regional cuisines of MLB teams with a Japanese twist.
So with Koji going to Baltimore, I wonder if anything from Boog’s Barbecue will be on the menu. And we’re not quite sure how the Japanese stomach will handle a Bratwurst with Secret Sauce from Miller Park washed down with a Wrigley Field Old Style.
And while the patrons chose between a Dodger Dog and whatever a pierogi is, they can watch their favorite Rising Sons on a 500-foot TV screen showing MLB games live.
Now, what post about Japanese baseball players would be complete without a line from everyone’s favorite Japanese baseball-related film “Mr. Baseball” (“The Bad News Bears Go To Japan” is a close second).
“Any of you guys speak Americano? Jack Elliot here bringing you the best in Major League thrills for the fellas and free moustache rides for the ladies.”
“I have seen “free moustache rides’ offered on T-Shirts in America. Always by guys you would not want to ride with.”