A Happy New Year to all readers of the Baseball Bullet-In.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants ballclub. The Giants team was established by Yomiuri Shimbun chairman Matsutaro Shoriki in 1934, following the famous Babe Ruth-Lou Gehrig postseason All-Star barnstorming tour by American major leaguers.
That was the series when schoolboy phenom Eiji Sawamura struck out four big league superstars. Sawamura, after whom Japan’s version of the Cy Young Award was named, fanned Ruth, Gehrig, Jimmy Foxx and Charlie Gehringer in a game in Shizuoka.
He lost 1-0 on a homer by Gehrig but went on to fame briefly with the Giants until his career was cut short when he was called into service prior to the start of the Second World War. He was subsequently killed in action.
Sawamura’s performance on that November day helped persuade Shoriki to work toward forming Japanfs first pro team one month after that major league tour ended and, here we are, three-quarters of a century later.
For 2009, the Giants have created a special anniversary logo which will be available on team goods and merchandise, and the club plans various events throughout the season to commemorate the milestone, culminating in a celebration on the 75th anniversary of the day the team was actually started, Dec. 26.
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Diamond Dust: As expected, Giants shortstop Hayato Sakamoto will be rewarded for his fine play in 2008 by getting a prestigious single-digit uniform number this year. Sakamoto will give up No. 61 and wear jersey No. 6. Also, the rising star finally turned 20 on Dec. 14 so, if Yomiuri can clinch more championships this coming season, he will be able to fully join in the victory celebrations and partake of the flowing beer and champagne with his teammates.
Still a teenager and below the legal age for alcohol consumption when the Giants clinched the 2008 Central League pennant and Climax Series, Sakamoto participated in the merriment with his mouth taped shut, except when he took sips of his own soft drink.
Another Kyojin player is being given a single-digit uniform number in an apparent indication he will be a regular when the season begins April 3. Outfielder Yoshiyuki Kamei is switching from No. 35 to 9 and will probably be the starting right-fielder in 2009.
A platoon player last season, Kamei was also named for consideration as a member of Japan’s World Baseball Classic team by manager Tatsunori Hara, and you can expect to see Sakamoto and Kamei, 26, as key players in the Giants lineup for most of the next decade.
Right-hander Daisuke Ochi, who emerged as one of the best pitchers for the 2008 Central League champions, also got a uniform number upgrade from 62 to 22. Setup man Ochi was one of the team’s best moundsmen in the latter part of the season, and Seibu Lions outfielder Hiram Bocachica said Ochi was the Giants pitcher he dreaded facing the most in the Japan Series.
One number the Giants have not assigned for 2009 is the 19 worn for the last 10 seasons by free agent and apparently major league-bound pitcher Koji Uehara. Speculation about his prospects for the majors has been strangely quiet as of late, however. He should have been signed by now by an American or National League team, and you have to wonder what is going on.
Meanwhile, the Chunichi Sports paper says the pool of MLB teams wanting this year’s other Japan prize, former Dragons ace pitcher Kenshin Kawakami, is down to three clubs: the Baltimore Orioles, St. Louis Cardinals and Minnesota Twins.
Utility infielder J.J. Furmaniak, signed by the Yokohama BayStars to play the 2008 season but not given much of a chance, will be invited to the spring training camp of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Rumor has it the BayStars are thinking about signing pitcher Ryan Glynn, let go by the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. If they do, Glynn would become yet another foreigner to play for three Japanese teams, joining Jose Fernandez, Jeremy Powell, Greg LaRocca, Tuffy Rhodes, Domingo Guzman and George Arias.
Though he led the Pacific League in losses in 2008 with a 7-14 record, Glynn posted a 3.64 ERA, which is not that bad, and he is capable of reversing that won-lost mark. If Yokohama does not hire him, some other team here would be wise to extend him a contract offer.
Glynn was 9-8 with a 2.21 ERA for the 2007 Pa League champion Fighters, after going 7-7 with a 3.96 ERA pitching the latter half the 2006 season for the last place Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.
The new Hiroshima ballpark will apparently be known as simply Mazda Stadium. It was to have been Mazda Zoom Zoom Stadium, but the “Zoom Zoom” is being dropped. Too bad; I kind of liked the longer version.
Finally this week, yes, this is a baseball column, but reader Matthew Fisk in Tokyo had a question about American football and TV: Will the U.S. college football championship game will be broadcast in Japan?
Good news for Matt and other gridiron fans: The BCS game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners and the University of Florida Gators will be carried live on the G+ (NTV affiliated) cable sports channel at 10 a.m. (Japan time) on Jan. 9.
G+ and another sports channel, Gaora, are also providing live coverage of NFL playoff games beginning this Sunday with the wild-card round. Super Bowl XLIII, to be played in Tampa, Fla., will air on the NHK BS-1 satellite channel on Monday morning, Feb. 2, the day after spring training begins for the 12 Japan pro baseball clubs.
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Wayne Graczyk at wayne@JapanBall.com