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Since 1995, American baseball experienced a significant influx of players from Japan, predominantly pitchers.
These players are fulfilling their athletic dreams of playing in the American major leagues.
Their arrival into American baseball has hardly gone unnoticed by the fans or the American press.

Hideo Nomo
Hideo Nomo

In July 1995, a story entitled "Nomomania Grips L.A. and Japan" ran on the Los Angeles Times's front page

It was no secret that Nomo was not satisfied playing professional baseball in Japan,
although he was one of the country's most famous and successful pitchers .
It had always been Nomo's dream to play baseball in the United States.
Nomo made American baseball the standard by which international players must measure their skills.
After his second major league start, Nomo was quoted as saying,
"I'm so glad I got to pitch in a real major league game.
This is what I always wanted. My dream was realized"
A star in his native Japan, Nomo was the NL's rookie-of-the year in 1995 with Los Angeles.
Nomo is no longer considered a novelty because he's the first Japanese player in 30 years to pitch in the major leagues.
The growing legion of Japanese fans who are following their countrymen in the major leagues,
got a special treat on Wednesday night, April 4 2001.
Nomo became the fourth pitcher in major league history to throw a no-hitter in both leagues,
using his hesitation windup and a mix of offspeed pitches and high heat in Boston's 3-0 victory over Baltimore.

Hideki Irabu

With the success of Nomo, the New York Yankees sought their own Japanese pitching star in Hideki Irabu.
Irabu's agreement to play in America did not come without controversy.
Heralded as a better pitcher than Nomo while pitching in Japan,
Irabu demanded to play only for the Yankees, although he was under the San Diego Padres rights.
Furthermore, when Irabu was finally traded to New York, his pitching value allowed him,
the leverage to attain a $12.8 million contract to be paid over 4 years with an $8.5 million signing bonus.
The $12.8 million contract was the most ever given to a player who had never pitched in the American major leagues

Mac Suzuki
Became the third Japanese born person to play major league baseball,
and the first to play in the American League in 1996 when he was called up by the Seattle Mariners.
Mac is the first Japanese player to play in America without first playing in Japan.
He played 23 games for the Mariners before coming to KC in 1999.
He averaged almost 7 strikeouts per game in the 2000 season.
He was traded to the Colorado Rockies on June 24, 2001.

Kazuhiro Sasaki
Sasaki belonged to the Yokohama Bay Stars (changed from Yokohama Taiyo Whales), from 1990 to 1999.
Sasaki signed with Seattle Mariners in December 1999.
He won the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 2000, and ranked third among American League relievers with 37 saves.
His nickname is "Daimajin", which means "big demon".

Two of Japan's biggest baseball stars decided at the end of 2000,
to test their skills in the U.S. major leagues.
They are Ichiro Suzuki, who has been top batter in the Pacific League for seven consecutive seasons,
and Tsuyoshi Shinjo, who was the number-four batter for the Hanshin Tigers, the popular Kansai-based team.
This is the first time position players have crossed the Pacific.
Both Suzuki--or Ichiro, as he is known--and Shinjo are outfielders
After Nomo went to the major leagues in 1995 and made a name for himself,
several other Japanese pitchers followed. If Ichiro and Shinjo are successful
as outfielders, other Japanese position players can be expected to follow.

Ichiro Suzuki
For years there have been rumors and reports in Japanese sports pages that Suzuki wanted to play in the major leagues.
The New York Times reported that bids for Suzuki from major league teams could exceed $10 million.
Suzuki, 27, hit .387 last season, the tops for any Japanese player in history, and won his seventh straight batting title.
He has a lifetime .353 average. Suzuki is also noted also for his fielding, throwing and running abilities.
Suzuki, expected there to be a period of adjustment playing in the major leagues.
After one week, he hit .417 as the Mariners' leadoff hitter.
At the All Star break he leads the Major League with 126 hits and 27 stolen bases,
and has the American League's second-best batting average .349.
Ichiro, with 3,373,035 all star votes, becomes the first rookie starter since Hideo Nomo in 1995.
Now the only question is whether Ichiro will become the only player besides Fred Lynn in 1975 to receive both,
the MVP Award and Rookie of the Year honors.

Tsuyoshi Shinjo

Shinjo acquired free agent rights after last season and had talks with two other teams in Japan,
the Yakult Swallows and Yokohama BayStars.
His previous team, Hanshin Tigers, also did not want to lose a key player,
and offered him a five-year contract worth 1.2 billion yen (10.9 million dollars).
On December 11, Shinjo surprised everyone by announcing that he had signed a contract with the New York Mets.
Shinjo explained that it had always been his dream to play in the major leagues.
Since there had been no offers from U.S. teams, he said, he had kept his wishes to himself,
but then the Mets heard of his ambition and came up with an offer, which he quickly accepted.
His contract will give him the minimum salary for a major league player, 200,000 dollars a year.
In essence, Shinjo turned down the prospect of a lucrative domestic contract to follow his dreams.
Some Japanese observers think that Shinjo is even better than Ichiro when it comes to defensive ability and strong throwing.
The Mets coach, Bobby Valentine, who once served as the coach of Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan, has great hopes for him.

Masato Yoshii
Signed as non-drafted free agent by New York Mets on January 13, 1998
He did not allow an earned run over his first 14.0 innings. He went 5-4 with a 3.27 ERA in 15 home starts
overall, was 6-8, 3.93 in 29 starts, including one complete game, struck out 10 Yankees, on June 28 at Shea Stadium
Traded by Mets to Colorado Rockies for P Bobby M. Jones and P Lariel Gonzalez (January 14, 2000).
Traded to the Montreal Expos in 2001.
Played for Kintetsu Buffaloes of Japan Pacific League (1985-94)
Yakult Swallows of Japan Central League (1995-97)

Shigetoshi Hasegawa

No. 21, Anaheim Angels. Won five straight decisions in 1998, one shy of the club record by a reliever.
Ranked sixth in Major League in average against with men on base .208
June 18th, 1997: The Los Angeles Dodgers, lead 7-5, over the Anaheim Angels.
When Shigetoshi Hasegawa relieves in the sixth inning, Dodger starter Hideo Nomo is still in the game,
This is the first major league matchup of pitchers from Japan.

Masanori Murakami's history in the American major leagues was much less publicized than todays players.

Masanori "Mashi" Murakami almost caused a complete collapse in U.S. Japanese baseball relations. Murakami was one of three members of the Nankai Hawks sent over to gain experience with the San Francisco Giants' farm teams in 1964.
The twenty-year-old did so well (11-7) and was so well liked (bowing to teammates who made good plays behind him) that he was promoted to the Giants.
He made his debut against the last-place Mets before 50,000 fans at Shea Stadium and pitched one inning of shutout relief.
That year he won one and saved one with a 1.80 ERA. He struck out 15 men in 15 innings and walked only 1.

At this point the Giants invoked the fine print in their contract -the paragraph giving them the right to buy any of the three who made the parent club. The Japanese had never anticipated this development! They said Murakami had only been on loan. The Hawks even charged that the contract was a forgery, thus enraging the Giants.

Commissioner Ford Frick threatened to break relations with Japan if they didn't honor the contract.
This could have cut off all further U.S. players going there to play. At last a compromise was reached.
Murakami would play one more year in the States, then would be free to choose his own destiny.
Mashi flew back to San Francisco, won 4 games, lost 1, saved 8, and struck out 85 men in 74 innings.
Due to homesickness and a more lucrative contract offer, Murakami returned to Japan to play professional baseball in 1965.
Perhaps due to Murakami's short stay with the San Francisco Giants,
American sports fans know virtually nothing about this young Japanese pitcher's success in America.

Welcome to the land of Ichiro

Seattle and the Pacific Northwest belong to Ichiro, the top vote-getter for the All-Star Game.
A musical tribute to the imported superstar from Japan is called.

"RBI Samurai: The Ichiro Song"

He came from the land of the rising sun
He's number 51
Can't believe how fast that guy can run

Steppin' to the plate
You dominate, intimidate
Just one good hit, the throw to first
Is sure to be late

There he goes stealing in second base
A record-breaking pace
Seems that guy from Texas left without a trace

Just one good hit, the throw to first
Is sure to be too late, sure to be too late


Go go Ichiro
You're my, my hero
You're the RBI Samurai
Go go Ichiro
You're my, my hero

Is this a dream
If so, don't wake me up
I love this team
Go go Ichiro
I love this team

Players Going To Japan

The Country of Origin of Foreign Players in Japan
Thru June 2000:

                     No. of players 
United States            31
Dominican Republic       10
South Korea               4
Venezuela                 3
Puerto Rico               2
Australia                 1
Canada                    1
China                     1
Mexico                    1

UPDATE July 13, 2001

All-Stars Ichiro Suzuki and Kazuhiro Sasaki are fed up
with the Japanese media covering their play with the Seattle Mariners.

The two players from Japan issued a joint statement Thursday
saying they will not talk to the Japanese press corps until further notice.

"Their position is that it's important their privacy away from the ballpark
be respected," said Tim Hevly, director of media relations for the Mariners.
"And until such time they feel the Japanese media gives them that respect,
they will be unable to speak with Japanese media."