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No Big Mac, no surprise

by Wayne Graczyk

It should not be a surprise to anyone that Mark McGwire is not going to play for the Chunichi Dragons next season.

Mitsuo Kodama, an executive with the Japan Central League club, tried to interest the erstwhile St. Louis Cardinals slugger in playing first base for Nagoya in 2002 and, while you have to admire Kodama’s ambitiousness in trying to land a big name, big league superstar, getting Big Mac was a longshot longer than several of his tape-measure homers.

Recall McGwire declined an invitation to visit Japan on the MLB post-season all-star tour in 1998, the year he hit 70 homers to establish a then major league record.

He also spoke out against the idea for the Cardinals to be one of the teams on the list of clubs to open the National League season in Tokyo in 2000, and St. Louis and the Los Angeles Dodgers were subsequently removed for consideration, leaving the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs the selectees.

Chunichi will also apparently not be getting Andres Galarraga or Jose Canseco, two other burly sluggers on what has been referred to as Kodama’s wish list.

If the Dragons have the money to offer guys like these, well, shoot; you might as well go for Barry Bonds, Kodama-san.

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Meanwhile, the Mets have been wheeling and dealing like crazy during this off-season. Hello Dave Justice, goodbye Robin Ventura. Buenos dias to Senor Robbie Alomar. So long Justice, Hello Mark Guthrie, Welcome Roger Cedeo, Sayonara Tsuyoshi Shinjo, Farewell Desi Relaford, Hey Shawn Estes. I’m getting dizzy!

The Mets were to officially sign former Chiba Lotte Marines and Yokohama BayStars pitcher Satoru Komiyama yesterday in New York.

Geez, I hope they don’t trade him!

Despite the fact it is not yet known if manager Bobby Valentine will use Komiyama as a starter, in relief or both, I have made the bold prediction that Komiyama will do better in the Big Apple in 2002 than he did last season at Yokohama where he won 12 games.

That’s right; I told Mets Assistant General Manager Omar Minaya in Tokyo two weeks ago I expect Komiyama to rack up at least 13 victories for New York this coming season.

We don’t expect him to win that many, said Minaya, But if he wins 13 games, we’re in the playoffs. Komi has never won more than 12 in a season.

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Sachiyo Nomura could be the best thing that ever happened to the Hanshin Tigers. Her arrest two weeks ago on tax evasion charges led to the resignation of her husband, Katsuya, as manager of the Tigers, and ex-Chunichi manager Senichi Hoshino is taking over with some new ideas to get Hanshin out of the Central League basement where it has finished the last three years under Nomura.

Japanese sports papers are reporting Hoshino wants to sign Japanese free agents So Taguchi and Atsushi Kataoka to join his cleanup trio, batting third and fifth respectfully in the lineup around American George Arias who hit 38 homers in 2001 for the Orix BlueWave.

Outfielder Taguchi, a free agent who also played with Orix, will try out with some major league teams next week but would reportedly consider returning to the BlueWave or signing with Hanshin if he is not offered a contract in North America.

Third baseman Kataoka, one of the best players on the Nippon Ham Fighters through last season, is also a free agent.

On paper, the addition of Taguchi, Arias and Kataoka would go a long way toward making the Tigers instant pennant contenders next season.

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Since the BlueWave are losing Arias, have fired American Joe Vitiello, will probably lose Taguchi and have seen free agent pitcher Shinichi Kato leave for the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes, you may be wondering how Orix is going to replace all these players.

Talentwise, it remains to be seen, but on Dec. 12, the Kobe club held its nyudanshiki (entering the team ceremony) and welcomed a whopping 14 rookies onto its roster.

Normally, a Japanese team will draft and sign between four and eight players each autumn, but the BlueWave took in one high school kid, four college boys and nine guys from company teams. Many are in their mid-20s agewise, mature, seasoned and seemingly ready to play.

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Keith Olbermann, the Fox network sports anchor, was filling in for Paul Harvey on the popular U.S. ABC commentators News and Commentary radio program last Thursday and said he thinks the attempt by Major League Commissioner Bud Selig to achieve contraction, at least where the Minnesota Twins are concerned, is dead for now but might be accomplished for 2003.

Olbermann claimed, when the major league owners announced their plan for contraction last month, . . . they knew very well it would never happen in time for next season. They knew they would get sued in Minnesota. They knew their forecasts of economic disaster would be disproved.

One owner confessed the owners had cooked their financial books.

“So what was this all about?” Olbermann asked.

Its simple, he answered to his own question. The baseball owners want taxpayers in Minnesota to give the team there a new free stadium. Build this stadium or we’ll kill this team. And its working.

It sure is.

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Too bad about the Seattle Mariners proposed 2002 Japan season openers being canceled. Prospects for the series had been looking good, and I heard from two sources the M’s opponent in Tokyo was to have been the Chicago White Sox.

Obviously, the main reason for scrubbing the series is the uncertainty over the major league situation.

If they don’t get the differences straightened out between management and the MLB Players Association, no MLB teams will be opening anywhere in late March or early April.

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This is the last Baseball Bullet-In column for the year, and I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. See you in 2002.