Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The All-Asian Major League Baseball Team

There’s been much talk of late about the decline in the numbers of African American major league baseball players. Commensurate with this trend has been the rise of the Latin ballplayer. Indeed, there are so many guys named Cabrera and Gonzalez on MLB rosters these days, it gets dizzying trying to keep them all straight. But after years of fairly halting progress, the major league ranks are starting to also take on a distinctively Asian look.

It’s 43 years since 20-year-old Masanori Murakami (left) joined the San Francisco Giants and became the first Japanese player in the major leagues. In parts of two seasons (1964-65), Murakami, working mostly as a reliever, totaled 5 wins, 1 loss, 9 saves, and compiled a 3.43 ERA in 54 games. Not bad numbers at all. Contractual obligations forced his return to Japan, where he went on to have a long and productive if unspectacular career. It took 30 years for the next Japanese ballplayer, Hideo Nomo, to enter the American baseball scene.

But now, finally, there are enough Asian ballplayers in MLB that we can actually put together a pretty decent team, one capable of winning games against other major league competition. You have to finagle the positions a little bit, with the biggest risk having no legit shortstop on the squad (we had to move Tadahito Iguchi over from his usual second base). First base, too, became a problem, and big was our disappointment to learn that South Korean-born first-baseman Hee Seop Choi, late of the Cubs, Dodgers and Marlins (and the rosters of the Red Sox and Devil Rays) has been out of the American game since 2005. Choi, the first-ever Korean fielder in the U.S. major leagues, has returned to his homeland to play for the Kia Tigers. He’s currently on rehab assignment, recovering from a fractured rib. (If you return to the States, Mr. Choi, first base is waiting for you, and we’ll move Godzilla back to the outfield.)

So here’s the proposed lineup, with the players’ current team affiliations and countries of origins. We could use a little more longball power from our Far Eastern squad, but the pitching’s pretty solid. Play some tenacious D behind “Dice-K” and Chien-Ming Wang, and we win our fair share of contests. (One of those pitchers will have to develop into our closer, though.) We’ll also have to play in the National League, so we can forgo the designated hitter issue. (Come back, Choi. Come back!)

Starting Lineup

1. Ichiro Suzuki, OF, Seattle Mariners (Japan)

2. Tadahito Iguchi, SS, Chicago White Sox (Japan)

3. So Taguchi, OF, St. Louis Cardinals (Japan)

4. Hideki Matsui, 1B, New York Yankees (Japan)

5. Akinori Iwamura, 3B, Tampa Bay Devil Rays (Japan)

6. Kenji Johjima, C, Seattle Mariners (Japan)

7. Shin-Soo Choo, OF, Cleveland Indians (South Korea)

8. Kazuo Matsui, 2B, Colorado Rockies (Japan)

9. Daisuke Matsuzaka, SP, Boston Red Sox (Japan)

Other Starting Pitchers

Chien-Ming Wang, New York Yankees (Taiwan)

Byung-Hyun Kim, Florida Marlins (South Korea)

Cha Seung Baek, Seattle Mariners (South Korea)

Jae Weong Seo, Tampa Bay Devil Rays (South Korea)

Tomokazu Ohka, Toronto Blue Jays (Japan)

Relief Pitchers

Hideki Okajima, Boston Red Sox (Japan)

Takashi Saito, Los Angeles Dodgers (Japan)

Jae Kuk Ryu, Tampa Bay Devil Rays (South Korea)

Akinori Otsuka, Texas Rangers (Japan)

Pitchers on the Bubble

Chin-hui Tsao, Los Angeles Dodgers (Taiwan). Currently on DL.

Chan Ho Park (South Korea). With 113 career wins since 1994, Park, soon to be 34, is definitely the grand old man of Asian MLB players. He won seven games for the Padres in 2006, and began 2007 with the Mets. Then he was optioned to AAA New Orleans on May 3. We really want you to come play for us anytime, Mr. Park, but you need to be on a major league roster first.

Kei Igawa (Japan) started the season with the New York Yankees, then was sent down to AAA affiliate Scranton on May 7.

Hong-Chih Kuo, Los Angeles Dodgers (Taiwan), is currently on assignment with AAA Las Vegas.

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