Were you surprised to see eight members of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles elected to the 2007 Pacific League All-Star team by fan balloting?
That many TRGE players were voted tops among the 12 positions and categories, including starting and middle relief pitchers, closers and designated hitter.
Riding the coattails — er, jersey sleeves — of slugger Takeshi Yamasaki who won at DH, were rookie starting hurler Masahiro Tanaka, set-up man Akira Matsumoto, stopper Kazuo Fukumori and freshman catcher Motohiro Shima.
Also picked by fan designation were second baseman Yosuke Takasu and outfielders Koichi Isobe and Teppei Tsuchiya, but did they all deserve it?
Matsumoto, for example, had an ERA of 6.11 when the team was announced.
Shima was batting only .170 with one home run and six RBIs.
It goes to prove the All-Star voting is a popularity contest, and it is nothing new to see so many guys from one team dominate the balloting.
Back in the 1970s when the Yomiuri Giants were a dynasty, it was normal to see Kyojin players picked at every position except catcher, where the Hanshin Tigers well-liked “home run artist,” Koichi Tabuchi, won the fan poll.
Even in the majors, there is a history of ballot box-stuffing, and it goes back half a century.
In 1957, Cincinnati Redlegs fans voted so many times, they got Reds players put in as starters at seven positions, and this was not the Big Red Machine.
Recall Johnny Temple, Roy McMillan and Don Hoak? Wally Post, Gus Bell, Frank Robinson and Big Ed Bailey? The only guy not from the Reds elected was St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Stan Musial.
Then-MLB Commissioner Ford Frick removed two Cincinnatians from the team, and the All-Star voting was subsequently taken away from the fans and given to the players themselves for several years.
It should be pointed out there is one major difference in the selection process between the major leagues and Japan. Those players elected by fan ballot in North America will start the one game to be played July 10 in San Francisco.
Here, the Eagles and other players chosen by fans will be on the Pacific and Central League rosters but not necessarily start either of two games scheduled for Tokyo Dome July 20 and Fullcast Stadium Miyagi July 21.
You can expect PL manager Trey Hillman to follow tradition, though, and stack his lineup with Rakuten favorites at Game 2 in Sendai.
Think Tanaka might be the starting pitcher in that one?
Meanwhile, one foreign player looking forward to the last inning of each All-Star game is Yokohama BayStars closer Marc Kroon who will be making his third consecutive All-Star appearance here, and he’s already got three saves to his credit; one in 2005 and two rescues a year ago.
He says his goal is to tie the Japan All-Star save record set by his manager with the BayStars in 2005-2006, Kazuhiko Ushijima, who racked up five during his career with the Chunichi Dragons and Lotte Orions.
Kroon, holder of the record for throwing Japan’s fastest pitch at 161 kph (100.625 mph), said he’s more concerned about getting out the Pacific League hitters than setting another speed record, but he knows the All-Star series is a festival, and he’ll do his best to give the fans a thrill.
Marc is also rooting for a former teammate, Los Angeles Dodgers closer Takashi Saito, with whom he played for the BayStars the year before last.
Saito will be in the National League bullpen at AT&T Park on Tuesday.
“He’s a super guy, and I am so happy for him,” Kroon said prior to a game with the Yomiuri Giants in Fukuoka on July 4.
Larry Rocca of the Chiba Lotte Marines has additional information about more promotions at upcoming home games.
On Tuesday, July 31, at the game against the Rakuten Eagles at Chiba Marine Stadium, all beers will be sold for half-price, 300 yen. That is an all-general admission game with tickets selling for 1,500 yen.
Also, former great major league pitcher Nolan Ryan will visit Japan and make his first appearance at a Japanese baseball game at Chiba on July 18.
The Marines will be playing the Orix Buffaloes on “American Meat Day” sponsored by the U.S. Meat Export Federation.
Ryan is a cattle rancher and played for current Lotte manager Bobby Valentine who was in uniform for four of Ryan’s seven no-hitters in the majors.
Valentine was the manager for the last two no-hitters Ryan tossed with the Texas Rangers and also for two career milestones, the 300th victory and 5,000th strikeout by “Ryan’s Express.”
U.S. Ambassador to Japan Tom Schieffer, the Rangers team president when Valentine and Ryan were there, will be at the game.
Ambassador Schieffer is also planning to attend July 15 as guest of the Hartford Insurance Co., a major sponsor with a logo on the Marines’ jerseys.
All employees of Hartford Japan will be invited to the Marines’ game against the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, and events will involve the Special Olympics and Masanori Murakami, former San Francisco Giants pitcher.
Also of note, there has been a starting time change for the Sunday, July 15, game between the Yomiuri Giants and Hiroshima Carp at Tokyo Dome.
Originally scheduled as a “nighter” starting at 6 p.m., the contest has been re-slated as a day game beginning at 2 p.m.
Finally this week, Rob Fitts of Rob’s Japanese Cards in New York has put up a Web site to honor Wally Yonamine and promote his biography of Wally, the Hawaii native and former great center fielder for the Yomiuri Giants and Chunichi Dragons manager.
The book comes out next spring, but the Web site is up now. Check it out at: www.wallyyonamine.com
Contact Wayne Graczyk at: wayne@JapanBall.com