The Yokohama BayStars reached the Nippon Professional Baseball summit in 1998 behind 12-game winner Daisuke Miura.
Ten years later, the BayStars have unceremoniously tumbled all the way down the mountain, hitting every bump along the way. Now a grizzled 17-year veteran, it’s Miura who’s taken it upon himself to help right the ship.
Miura recently spurned the chance to compete for a Japan Series title with the Hanshin Tigers, the team he idolized as a child, to stick with the lowly BayStars in hopes of reaching the summit one more time.
He noted his love for the Yokohama fans, and the desire to challenge with an underdog as part of his decision.
“This was a very, very tough decision to make,” he said at a press conference on Nov. 30. “But I asked myself, ‘What do I want to do?’ In high school and professional (baseball), my desire has been to beat strong teams.”
With 124 career wins, not to mention the best hair in Japanese baseball, “Hama no Bancho” has placed more value in the 17 years he’s spent with the Yokohama organization than in the reported ¥900 million he was offered by the Tigers.
The main question now is how will the BayStars reward his loyalty?
Yokohama has just one top-three finish since 2002 and came in dead last in the CL in ’02, ’03, ’04, ’06 and this past season as well.
Aside from his wins total, Miura has had a more than respectable career with a 3.51 career ERA. He won 11 games in 2007 and led the Central League with 177 strikeouts and a 2.52 ERA in 2005.
Despite a injury-plagued campaign that saw him go 7-10 with a 3.56 ERA in 2008, the Tigers, who finished second in the CL, came calling soon after the season ended.
Miura grew up in the Osaka area, and his father, who is a big Hanshin fan, took him to numerous games at Koshien Stadium as a child.
So given Miura’s sentimental ties to the Kansai club, Hanshin’s loaded roster and the contract the Tigers came armed with, it’s a bit of unexpected serendipity for the BayStars and their fans that he’ll likely retire in Yokohama.
The BayStars’ top brass owes it not only to the fans, but to a star who turned down a lucrative offer from a contender to stay, to do everything it can to put the best possible team on the field.
But no one should be expecting a quick turnaround. The BayStars had a lot of problems last season that one offseason likely won’t fix.
However, if the team can make some smart decisions off the field, good things will eventually follow on it.
Historically, when Miura has been good, so have the BayStars. He’s won nine or more games in a season seven times in his career and Yokohama has finished no worse than third in all but one of those years.
In addition to Miura, who should enter the 2009 season in good health, the BayStars have home run king Shuichi Murata and rising star Seiichi Uchikawa and another big bat in Yuki Yoshimura on the roster.
But when a team loses 94 games and finishes 24 1/2 games out of postseason contention, there are many areas that need to be addressed.
But holding on to Miura does at least get things pointed in the right direction for now.
In an era of “me-first” athletes, Miura’s decision to put the team ahead of his own personal game is more than refreshing.
Hopefully that team won’t let his sacrifice be in vain.