Ichiro, Kinjo are the talk of the town


Talk on the Nagoya Dome field prior to Game 6 of the NTT Communications All-Star Series 2000 on Nov. 9, besides the chaotic U.S. presidential election results, centered around the news that some major league team had offered 14 oku yen ($13,125,000) for the rights to negotiate with soon-to-be-former Orix BlueWave outfielder Ichiro Suzuki. At the time, the team had not been named, but the next day it was learned the Seattle Mariners would be talking contract with Ichiro.

Asked what he thought about the seven-time Pacific League batting champion, Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox said he saw Ichiro’s stats, knew he was a .353 lifetime hitter and heard he can hit, run, throw and play defense with the best in the game. “If some team is offering that much money just for the right to negotiate, he’s got to be a great player,” said Cox. Asked if he thought Ichiro is worth that much, Cox said, “I don’t know because I haven’t seen him play.

“I was hoping he would play against us in this series, but I heard he’s coming off an injury,” Cox told a group of mixed Japanese and foreign reporters while his major leaguers were taking batting practice on Thursday.

The Braves field boss went on to say that, until he actually sees Ichiro play, he can’t say too much but, “If he’s as good as I’ve heard, he’ll obviously be the first Japanese position player in the majors and could open the door for more (non-pitchers to go to the major leagues).”

Another Japanese position player who could possibly try the big leagues (though several years down the road) is Yokohama BayStars phenom Tatsuhiko Kinjo. Watching the 2000 Central League batting leader (.346 average) playing against the major leaguers in the ongoing series, you have to believe this guy is the real thing. Sure, he’s going to have to show this season’s performance was no fluke with consistent hitting in the years to come but, for now, he’s showing great poise playing against some of the best players in the world.

Kinjo banged out four hits in that 14-2 Japanese blowout in Game 3 of the series last Sunday and was making some pretty plays at shortstop and third base. Through the sixth game on Thursday, he was hitting a cool .474 off the major league pitching, and he’s convinced me he is for real. Yokohama fans must be excited about next season.

Meanwhile, back in North America, Jim Tracy is the new Los Angeles manager, but Ken Macha has so far not landed a big league pilot’s job despite reportedly being interviewed by Toronto, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. If you go back 15-20 years here, you’ll recall both played in Japan’s Central League, and both left the country under somewhat unusual circumstances.

Tracy had a pretty good year with the then-Yokohama Taiyo Whales in 1983, hitting .303 with 19 homers and 66 runs batted in. He was looking forward to doing better in 1984 but, during the third game of the season, was taken out by his manager for a pinch runner after he walked in the eighth inning of a tie game. Tracy felt he was a good and fast enough baserunner to be left out there, especially when he might bat again in the bottom of the ninth or an extra inning, and he complained to his interpreter about the manager sending in a sub.

The next day he quit and went home but got his chance to manage in the minors with the Cubs and the Expos, and now he’ll be managing one of Major League Baseball’s high-profile teams in the footsteps of such notables as Walter Alston and Tommy Lasorda.

Macha, meanwhile, played third base for the Chunichi Dragons from 1982 through 1985. He helped Nagoya win the CL pennant his first year with stats of 23 homers, 76 RBIs and a .311 average. He had a better season in 1984 with 31, 93, .316. Then, in mid-July of 1985, when he was hitting .301 with 13 HRs and 54 RBIs, the Dragons were playing the Tokyo Giants in Sapporo when Macha was a runner at second, and he suffered a freak injury that led to the end of his active playing career.

Diving back on a pick-off play, Macha put his fingers under the bag, and his hand was severely sliced open on an apparent razor-sharp piece of metal securing the canvas to the ground. It bled like crazy, and he was taken for stitches, sent back to Nagoya and put on the disabled list for a month. When he healed and was again ready to play in late August, the Dragons were about to host the Giants in a weekend series at Nagoya Stadium, and that was to be Macha’s last appearance as a player here.

“The (Dragons team) owner called me into his office,” said Macha. “He thanked me for three and a half years of service to the team, said he wanted me to play that last series against the Giants — then go home!”

Macha went back and has been in baseball the last 15 years as a major league bullpen or bench coach or minor league manager with the Expos, Angels, Red Sox and Athletics. Too bad he’s apparently missed his chance this time, but Ken will most likely become manager of a National or American League team one of these years.

Finally this week, thanks to all connected with the NTT All-Star Series 2000 for a great show, and especially to manager Bobby Cox, his coaches and players and all those who made the trip from North America. Hope all you fans had a chance to see at least one game in person. The tour wraps up today with a noon game at the Tokyo Dome, after which most of the visitors head home. Arigato and