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War of words continues between Johjima, Nomura

by Jason Coskrey

New Hanshin Tigers catcher Kenji Johjima’s return to Japanese baseball was lauded by many in the NPB community.

Just not by Katsuya Nomura, perhaps Japan’s best ever at the position.

Recently asked about Johjima’s return, the outspoken Nomura was ready to stoke the flames in the odd war of words that has existed between the two for some time.

“I don’t want to talk about Johjima, that idiot,” Nomura was quoted as telling Sports Nippon on Tuesday. “He lacks common sense.”

This isn’t the first time Nomura has felt the need to take a jab at the former Seattle Mariners backstop.

Nomura lashed out at Johjima during the WBC in March, implying that he was the reason Japan gave up its lone run in a 1-0 loss to South Korea on March 10.

At the time, Japan had given up just eight hits and three runs through three games and Johjima wasted little time firing back at the Hall of Fame catcher.

“Nomura will still rip me (no matter what),” Johjima said then. “Because we’ve given up about eight hits. And he would always hit 1.000 at the plate, right?”

Nomura finished his 25-year career with a .257 career average and hit 657 home runs. He’s regarded as one of the greatest in Japanese baseball history and went on to have a long career as a manager as well.

Johjima could go down as one of the greats in his own right. Johjima is the only Japanese-born catcher in major league history, spending four seasons with the Seattle Mariners. In Japan, Johjima was a multiple-time All-Star and 2003 Pacific League MVP with the Fukuoka Daiei (later Softbank) Hawks.

The reason for Nomura’s fixation with Johjima is largely unknown, but Johjima is unlikely to take it laying down.

So with Johjima back in Japan and Nomura (who is a former Tigers manager) out of work and likely to make his fair share of television appearances, the sparks may continue to fly.

Friendly fire: Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles pitcher Masahiro Tanaka wants to be Japan’s ace when the next World Baseball Classic rolls around in 2013. The 21-year-old, who recently returned from training in Arizona, said he wants to lead the team if selected to play.

He’ll likely have to best Yu Darvish for that honor. Darvish is widely regarded as the nation’s best pitcher and has done nothing to seem undeserving of the title.

Tanaka and Darvish were both present on Tuesday when the WBC team gathered to receive their rings, celebrating Samurai Japan’s triumph in the 2009 tournament.

Tanaka made four appearances in the WBC and posted a 3.86 ERA in 2 1/3 innings. Darvish was 2-1 with a 2.08 ERA in five appearances.

Rakuten’s young hurler had a solid regular season campaign, going 15-6 with a 2.33 ERA and 8.11 K/9 ratio in 189 2/3 innings. Tanaka won both his starts in the postseason, recording a complete-game victory in his playoff debut against the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.

Arms race: The Sawamura Award isn’t enough for Pacific League pitchers anymore. They’re starting to hone in on the MVP racket as well.

Hokkaido Nippon Ham’s Yu Darvish became the latest PL hurler to be crowned the league’s top player, being given the honor on Wednesday.

PL hurlers have won the MVP award in three consecutive seasons (Darvish won in 2007 and Tohoku Rakuten’s Hisashi Iwakuma was last season’s winner), marking the first time that has happened since Kintetsu Buffaloes pitcher Hideo Nomo won in 1990 and was followed by Seibu Lions Taigen Kaku (’91) and Takehiro Ishii (’92).

Combined with Fukuoka Softbank’s Toshiya Sugiuchi’s win in 2005, four of the last five PL MVP’s have been pitchers.

Among them, Darvish is the only one to win the MVP without also claiming the Sawamura (which itself has gone to a PL pitcher every year since 2005) in the same year. Hideaki Wakui was this year’s Sawamura recipient.