There’s always quite the buzz when a player from the Japanese league makes the jump to Major League Baseball and with good reason. It seems of late each player who has landed in the bigs has left his mark in an impactful way. Now, it’s Shohei Ohtani’s turn. A two-way player whom scouts have labeled a premium prospect with elite stuff as both a pitcher and a hitter. Ohtani-mania is here and it’s sweeping across Major League Baseball which has us thinking. Who are the best players of Japanese descent to play in the majors? Listed below are The Hardball Network’s 5 Japanese players who rocked Major League Baseball.
Masanori “Mashi” Murakami
The player who started it all. Masanori Murakami was the first ballplayer of Japanese descent to play in Major League Baseball. Called up to the big leagues in 1964 by the San Francisco Giants, Murakami would compile a 5-1 record with a 3.43 ERA out of the bullpen over two seasons. Unfortunately, Murakami’s career in the majors ended there. A contract dispute between the Giants and the Japanese Nankai Hawks sent Murakami back to Japan at the end of the 1965 season. It would be 30 years before another Japanese born player would reach the majors.
1995, was a great year for baseball. Rebounding from the strike-shortened 94′ season, 1995 saw many milestones reached. The Atlanta Braves finally won their first World Series title, Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig‘s consecutive games played streak, the wild card was added to the postseason, and a Japanese sensation named Hideo Nomo landed in Los Angeles. Electrifying two countries at once, no player did more to open the door for the current influx of Japanese ballplayers into Major League Baseball then Hideo Nomo. Breaking into the majors 30 years after Murakami, Nomo had one of the most successful careers of any Japanese player to have ever come along. With a unique “tornado” wind up, Nomo baffled hitters for 13 seasons and drove Japanese fans by the thousands to the ballpark. Nomo put together a long list of accolades which included winning the 1995 Rookie of the Year Award, pitching two no-hitters, led the league in strikeouts twice, and was named an All-Star starter in his very first season.
When your nickname is “Godzilla” you know you can hit and Hideki Matsui did just that over a 10-year career in the bigs. In his very first home game, Matsui hammered a grand slam. He then went on to finish second in the Rookie of the Year voting that season. Quickly cementing his place as a slugger in the lineup, Matsui would put together some impressive career numbers. Matsui finished his career with 175 home runs (the first Japanese player to hit 100 home runs in Major League Baseball), 760 RBI, and was a two-time all-star. Matsui would also become the first Japanese born ballplayer to hit a home run in the World Series and in 2009, he won the World Series Most Valuable Player Award. Not a bad career.
When you say the name “Ichiro” everyone knows who you are talking about. A five-tool player who has amazed fans for 17 seasons, Ichiro Suzuki is widely regarded as the greatest Japanese player to ever lace up a pair of cleats in the majors. The future Hall of Famer is the owner of numerous major league records including most hits in a season (262) and consecutive seasons with 200 hits (10). Ichiro has also been Rookie of the Year, MVP, a 10-time All-Star, 10 time Gold Glove winner, 3 time Silver Slugger recipient, stolen base leader, and recently became the 31st player in Major League Baseball history to reach the 3,000 hit milestone. Welcome to Cooperstown, Ichiro!
The myth, the man, it’s Sadaharu Oh. Yes, we know Sadaharu Oh never actually played for a Major League Baseball club but we couldn’t mention Japanese ballplayers who rocked Major League Baseball without a mention of the legend himself. Playing his entire career from 1959 – 1980 for the Yomiuri Giants, in Tokyo, Japan, Oh established himself as the king of Japanese baseball. Oh, has owned every significant Japanese hitting record at one time or another and is still the record holder for career home runs with 868. ..Wait. Did we just say 868? That’s almost a thousand home runs! Yep and not just that, Oh also compiled a career 1.079 OPS, 2,170 RBI, was a 9 time MVP and 11 time Champion. But, how did Oh actually rock Major League Baseball? Well, Oh did get to test his skills In 110 exhibition games against major leaguers in which he hit 25 home runs with a .413 on-base percentage, and a .524 slugging percentage. Oh, even challenged Hank Aaron in a home run derby where he narrowly lost 10-9. Sadly, Oh never got to play a full season in the majors but with numbers like his, he’ll make our list any day of the week.
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