The best Japanese players in the MLB history

newsonjapan.com -- Oct 12
Besides the USA, the only other country that really enjoys the pastime of Baseball is Japan.

They have their own league, with their own system for developing players and promoting youth, which is very different to how the sport operates in the US. Part of the reason very few countries are interested is because like most American sports, they can be quite boring. And only in the US, could you have a “World Series” that consists of teams solely from North America.

What would really help the sport, and its credibility with fans across the pond, is actually inviting Japanese teams from the Nippon League to compete in the World Series. Then maybe more people will take the sport seriously. For now though, Japanese fans just have to look forward to Japanese players making appearances in the MLB, rather than competing for international titles. But who are the best Japanese players in MLB history? Well, let’s find out…

Ichiro Suzuki

Possibly the most accomplished Japanese player to set foot in the US, Ichiro Suzuki had an incredible career when he signed for the Seattle Mariners in 2001, spending 11 years with them. In his first season, he set the American League (AL) alight, winning moth the AL Most Valuable Player award, AL Rookie of the Year, and both a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove award.

He went on to add to that tally, collecting 10 All-Star nods, 10 Gold Gloves, three Silver Sluggers and two batting titles. But would leave the Mariners for spells at both the New York yankees and the Miami Marlins, before returning to Seattle in early 2019, where he would retire at the ripe old age of 45.

But him being one of the top MLB picks should’ve been no surprise, since he had such an incredible career back in Japan before he left for the US. He managed to collect three Pacific League MVPs, seven batting titles and seven Golden Gloves during his time in the Nippon League with the Orix BlueWave.

Masanori Murakami - San Francisco Giants

Murakami makes the list because he made history, being the first player of Japanese descent to play in the MLB. He was originally playing in the Nippon League in Japan, but a deal between his then side the Nankai Hawks and San Francisco saw him move to the States. But his career didn’t kick off right away, or last very long, as he was initially put in the minors. But impressive form saw the Giants want to call him up to the Majors after his first season.

He didn’t want to stay, but an agreement was finally reached, in which he did play a season for the Giants. Managing to average 10.1 strikeouts for every 9 innings he pitched. Impressive going. But sadly, the MLB would see him no more, as he moved back to Japan to play the rest of his career out with Nankai.

Daisuke Matsuzaka - Boston Red Sox

A player who was dominating the NPB from 1996-2006 with the Sibu Lions, Matsuzaka became a record signing when the Red Sox paid a record $51.1m posting fee for him to bring him to the MLS. In his rookie season, he managed 201 strikeouts in 204 ⅔ innings, which would help the Red Sox make the postseason fixtures. And his incredible form continued, helping the Red Sox to win a World Series, becoming the first Japanese-born pitcher to win a World Series game.

Next to enter the history books?

The most likely candidate to make the history books as one of the best Japanese players in the MLB is the Los Angeles Angels Shohei Ohtani. At only 27 years of age, he’s still relatively early on in his MLB career, but he’s looking to be a top talent so far and breaking plenty of records.

He started with the Angels back in 2018, when he managed to pick up the AL Rookie of the Year, and he has continued his impressive form since. Sadly, his first season, and follow-up season were both affected by injury. And last season was affected by COVID-19 preventing the full season going ahead. But 2021 has been great for him so far.

He has already managed two major achievements. First, he is the first player in MLB history to hit 30 homers and 10 steals within the season’s first 81 games. And secondly, he is the first player in MLB history to be selected in two roles as part of the All-Star team; a position player, and a hitter. And if he continues this form, he will potentially become the greatest Japanese player to grace the MLB. But it will take time.

And there you have it. Some excellent historical Japanese figures who have made big impacts and broke various records in MLB. And even the next potential star to do so. Hopefully, a day comes where the World Series sees more teams than those based in North America taking part in the “World Series”, and we can actually see some great contests from the best teams in the East and the West. That would be the ultimate dream for many baseball fans.