“Kokubo dealt to Giants” read our headline above the story reporting the transfer of infielder Hiroki Kokubo from the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks to the Yomiuri Giants on Nov. 4. But how would this appear in the sports transactions columns listed in many newspapers in North America and around the world?
Kokubo, assuming he can recover from a devastating knee injury suffered during a spring training exhibition game last March, is one of the top players in Japanese baseball. Hawks’ 1995 teammate Kevin Mitchell said even then, “Kokubo’s got great tools. He could play in the major leagues right now,” and he’s gotten better over the past eight years.
The third baseman enjoyed his best season in 2001 when he slammed 44 homers, drove in 123 runs and hit .290. In 2002, his stats were 32, 89, .292, and his salary is listed as 210 million yen, highest on the Fukuoka team. So, how can the Hawks send him to the Giants without benefit of a trade, contract sale, waivers, contract release or free agency?
The sports transactions entry would have to read as follows: JAPANESE BASEBALL — the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks gave infielder Hiroki Kokubo to the Yomiuri Giants.
This would be as if the Chicago Cubs gave outfielder Sammy Sosa to the New York Yankees. Speculation has it cash-strapped Daiei is simply trying to unload Kokubo’s salary, but should not the Hawks be getting something in return?
Also, what are the Giants going to do with all these players? Last time I checked, there were only eight positions (not counting pitcher) in a baseball team’s starting lineup, but Yomiuri has, or will soon have, about 12 star first-string players to fill them.
If the Kyojin also get Pacific League home run king Tuffy Rhodes, and that is a growing possibility according to reports, sports papers are forecasting new Giants manager Tsuneo Horiuchi would line up Tuffy in center field, flanked by Roberto Petagine in left and Yoshinobu Takahashi in right.
Kokubo would play third, along side Tomohiro Nioka at short, with Toshihisa Nishi at second and Kazuhiro Kiyohara at first. Shinnosuke Abe is the catcher. So what happens to outfielder Takayuki Shimizu, the superb leadoff man who had 191 hits and batted .314 during the Giants’ pennant-winning 2002 season? What about first baseman-third baseman Akira Eto, a former Central League home run king? One or both of those could have been sent to the Hawks as compensation for Kokubo, no?
There are a lot of people who smell something extremely fishy about the Kokubo “deal” starting with the Giants’ five Central League opponent teams and thousands of irate Daiei fans who flooded the team office switchboard to ask how this could have happened.
It will be interesting to see if the Kokubo giveaway has any effect on Fukuoka’s posting of second baseman Tadahito Iguchi. Will the Hawks go ahead and make Iguchi available to MLB teams, thus also unloading his reported 180 million yen salary and picking up a nice chunk of change from whatever American or National League club makes the highest bid for his services? Or will Daiei keep Iguchi to help offset the loss of Kokubo?
True, the Hawks did just fine without Kokubo this past season, winning the Japan Series, and there is no guarantee the guy can even play for the Giants, where he cannot serve as a designated hitter, with that fragile knee. But this has got to be one of the weirdest player transfers in the history of baseball anywhere.
Jim Small of Major League Baseball International reports more than 75 million total viewers in Japan watched the World Series this year. This continues a dramatic increase in viewership that began in 2000 when 3.9 million total viewers tuned in.
Ratings of regular season MLB games broadcast on satellite increased 55 percent in 2003 to 1.24 (from 0.8 in 2002). Additionally, total viewership was up 77.9 percent to 414 million. Could any of this have to do with the fact Hideki Matsui played for the Yankees this season?
The Central and Pacific League preliminary 2004 game calendar has been released with the following noteworthy dates. Saturday, March 27, is Opening Day for the Pacific circuit, while the Central loop lidlifters will take place on Friday, April 2.
The Pa League has scheduled its March 29-31 games outside the Kanto area; in Osaka, Kobe and Fukuoka, so as not to go head-to-head against the anticipated major league season openers expected to be played within those dates at Tokyo Dome.
The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters will still play 14 games at Tokyo Dome next season, including three-game series against the Chiba Lotte Marines, Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes, Fukuoka Daiei Hawks and Orix BlueWave. I will try to get them to do Diamondbacks Day at one of the above games.
The F’s will also play at the Big Egg as visitor in a two-game series with Orix as the home team. In addition, the Hawks will host the Buffaloes for one game at Tokyo Dome, and Nippon Ham will play the Seibu Lions a game at Victor Starfin Stadium in Asahikawa, Hokkaido, north of Sapporo.
In the Central League, the Yomiuri Giants will play the first game of their annual three-game Kyushu Series at Sun Marine Stadium in Miyazaki on May 25 against the Hiroshima Carp, then travel to Fukuoka for the final two games of the set. The Giants will also play a game at Bochan Stadium in Matsuyama, Shikoku, one of those gorgeous “field of dreams” ballparks in the middle of nowhere, on Aug. 31 against the Yokohama BayStars.
The three-team Pa League playoff series begins Oct. 1, with the champion to be decided on Sports Day, Monday, Oct. 11.
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