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A busy couple of weeks in baseball despite the holidays

by Wayne Graczyk

Happy New Year to all Baseball Bullet-In readers, and best wishes for a healthy and prosperous 2007.

We’ve been away for two weeks, so we’ll start off the first column of this year with a review of some of the off-beat topics in Japanese baseball news, official and unofficial, compiled from various sports newspapers, e-mails and facsimile messages.

Recall in the Nov. 26 column I mentioned the report about the possibility of Sammy Sosa being considered for employment by the Chunichi Dragons? Rumors about Slammin’ Sammy coming here were revived during the holidays, now involving another Central League club.

Japanese sports papers linked the former major-league slugger with the Yokohama BayStars, and there is no doubt a player with Sosa’s name would be a huge draw here. The articles played up the fact he’s hit 588 home runs in the big leagues, including seasons where hit he 66 (1998) and 63 (’99).

A proposed salary figure mentioned in the press articles was 500 million yen (about $4.2 million) for one season. If the ‘Stars, or another Japanese club, go ahead and sign Sosa, the team would naturally be counting on the fact he would play every day and provide huge interest that would mean increased attendance, such as the Yakult Swallows enjoyed when major-league superstar Bob Horner joined them in 1987.

Horner hit five home runs in his first week playing for Yakult, and the Swallows immediately got a deluge of publicity that led to big crowds at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, and the extra ticket sales revenue for two three-game series at home probably paid Horner’s salary for the whole year.

Sammy Sosa playing in Japan? Interesting idea, and I’d like to see it but, despite what the papers are saying, it seems like a long shot.

The recycling of foreign players continued over the break with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters signing Ryan Glynn, a pitcher discarded by the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, and the Chiba Lotte Marines acquiring slugger Julio Zuleta, who was let go by the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks after a contract agreement could not be reached.

Also, the Orix Buffaloes will take the chance Greg LaRocca will stay injury-free this year. Manager Terry Collins’ club picked up the oft-hurt infielder after he was dropped by the Swallows.

That so far brings to five the number of gaikokujin coming back this season with different teams. LaRocca came here with the Hiroshima Carp in 2004, and he will join Rakuten’s Jose Fernandez as one of the rare foreigners who will have played for three teams in Japan. I will have a complete rundown of who’s who among Japanese baseball’s foreign players for 2007 in a column later this month.

The Yomiuri Giants decided on a massive realignment of players’ uniform numbers for the coming season. A total of 23 guys who were with the Kyojin in 2006 and will remain with the team this year will have different numerals on their backs when spring training starts in just 25 days.

Among the more prominent ones in the re-shuffle are pitchers Hisanori Takahashi, switching from 17 to 21, Kentaro Nishimura (23 to 30), Masanori Hayashi (30 to 13), Takahiko Nomaguchi (13 to 33) and Chiang Chien-ming (97 to 17).

Also, first baseman Lee Seung Yeop will swap No. 33 for 25, second baseman Ryota Wakiya is trading 57 for 23, outfielder Yoshiyuki Kamei is dropping 25 for 35, speedster Takahiro Suzuki will turn in 68 and take 12, and utility man Takuya Kimura gives up 58 to wear No. 0.

Infielder Makoto Kosaka will wear No. 6 and give his old numeral 2 to incoming free agent Michihiro Ogasawara. The person in charge of attaching the names above the numbers on the Yomiuri jerseys is having an extremely busy winter, and, for sure, you will need a scorecard to keep track of who is wearing what number for the 2007 Giants.

The commercial endorsement offers are, not surprisingly, already coming in for Boston Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. The Chunichi Sports, in its Dec. 28 edition, indicated there will be a Matsuzaka vs. Hideki Matsui TV ad campaign for Asahi Super Dry beer, starting in April.

The Dec. 31 Nikkan Sports front page said Matsuzaka will also be appearing in commercials for Dunkin’ Donuts worldwide. You may have noticed at the Dec. 14 press conference in Boston, where the Matsuzaka signing was formally announced by the Red Sox, there was a huge depiction of the gaudy orange-and-pink DD logo behind the star pitcher.

Ironically, there are no more Dunkin’ Donuts outlets in Japan; they pulled out of here about 10 years ago after the company bought out Mister Donut in the U.S. and, recognizing the popularity of the Mister Donut name brand in this country, decided to close all the Dunkin’ Donut shops, including the one in Kichijoji, Tokyo, where I live, and another across the street from Tokyo Dome.

One of the sports papers, by the way, has already mentioned the possibility of the Red Sox opening the 2008 official American League season in Japan, but it remains to be seen what MLB will decide to do with respect to the rumored regular-season openers next year at the Olympic Stadium in Beijing.

Finally this week, in the wake of the movement to the major leagues by Matsuzaka, Akinori Iwamura and Kei Igawa, yet another Japanese baseball star is looking to be posted for MLB service. He’s Mr. Carrasco, that wacky but popular Rakuten Eagles mascot.

What next? Posting of groundskeepers? Hot dog vendors?

Say, I wonder if they post sportswriters?

Contact Wayne Graczyk at wayne@JapanBall.com