Rarely does a foreign player get a second chance at Japanese baseball. If a gaikokujin does not do well and is let go by a Central or Pacific League team, it is not likely he will be picked up by another club in Japan.
I am not talking about guys such as George Arias, Tuffy Rhodes, Trey Moore or Jose Fernandez who put up good numbers but changed teams, for whatever reason, from one year to the next.
I am referring to those who flat out failed and, after one season or less, were sent packing. Few of those get invited back two or three years later; the theory being that, if they have not adjusted to Japanese baseball in a year, they never will.
Still, some teams ignored that unwritten rule and recalled players who struggled and were fired. Most often, they got burned, as with the following.
The old Lotte Orions signed an ex-San Francisco Giants outfielder named Jim Rosario in 1975. He had personal problems (a family member back home had terminal cancer) and a batting stance and swing unsuited for Japan.
Just 24 games into the season, with his batting average at .207, having hit no home runs and racking up just four runs batted in, Rosario was simply told to go home by then-Orions manager Masaichi Kaneda.
In 1976, Rosario had a fine year in Triple-A and briefly made it back to the majors with the Milwaukee Brewers, so Lotte’s Pacific League rival, the Crown Lighter Lions of Fukuoka, decided to give him another try, hoping to show up Kaneda and the Orions.
But Rosario was about as bad here in 1977 as he had been two years before, posting stats of five homers, 18 RBIs and a .218 average in 107 games. He was told again to head home, this time for good.
Then there was George Wright, signed by the Nankai Hawks of Osaka in 1988. The switch-hitting outfielder was expected to bust the fences at bandbox Osaka Stadium, but he managed only 11 homers and 27 RBIs for the year, with a .263 batting average in 89 games.
Wright was let go as Nankai Railways sold the Hawks to Daiei, which moved the franchise to Fukuoka.
The player worked the next four seasons in the U.S. minors and had a stint in Taiwan.
Then in 1993, as Fukuoka Dome was opening, who should the Daiei Hawks introduce as their new foreign player? That’s Wright, George.
Believe it or not, his ’93 performance was worse than the one of five years earlier; while he drove in 44 runs in 89 games, he hit only nine homers and batted just .237 to earn another pink slip, this time gone forever.
Most recently, slugger Ivan Cruz was hired in 2001 by the Hanshin Tigers.
He had a hot spring exhibition showing, but a series of injuries, and a propensity to strike out often, limited his regular season playing time to 70 games, in which he hit 14 homers, had 34 RBIs and marked a .234 average. The first baseman was cut at season’s end.
Then Cruz had a great year in 2002 with the St. Louis Cardinals’ Triple-A club and was called up to the majors that September.
He had hit .280 with 35 homers and 100 RBIs for the Memphis Redbirds and .357 in 17 games with the Cards.
Citing his record that year, noting Cruz had a super personality and had already been acclimated to life in Japan, and needing a slugging first baseman, the Chunichi Dragons invited Cruz to return in 2003 and show his true ability, but it was not to be.
Playing in 71 games last year, Ivan hit just 11 homers with 34 RBIs and a .222 average.
The disappointed Dragons again showed Cruz the way to the airport departure lounge and bid him sayonara.
Now, this year, one slugger rejected by the team builders has become the cornerstone of his team’s offense.
Panamanian pounder Fernando Seguignol toiled for the Orix BlueWave in 2002 but put up boom-or-bust stats: 23 HR, 47 RBIs and a .204 average. Orix understandably cut him.
Last season, though, Seguignol won the International (Triple-A) League batting and home run titles at Columbus, the New York Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate.
After slamming 28 homers, driving in 87 and batting .341, he was promoted to the Bronx at season’s end and played five games for the Yanks, re-attracting the attention of Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters manager Trey Hillman.
Hillman had been the Yankees Triple-A manager at Columbus in 2000 when Seguignol was playing in the same IL with Ottawa, the top farm club of the Montreal Expos.
“I knew him and know what he can do,” said Hillman in explaining why the Fighters decided to set aside the examples of Rosario, Wright and Cruz and give Seguignol that second crack at Japanese baseball.
Good move. The first baseman is one of the big reasons Hokkaido has been in the Pacific League first division (read playoff contention) most of this season.
Through games of Monday, June 7, “Sugoi” (Sensational) Seguignol was leading the Pa League with 22 home runs and a .374 batting average and had 48 RBIs.
Over the full 135-game season, those power stats would project to 52 homers and 116 RBIs.
Diamond Dust: Fukuoka Daiei Hawks lefty reliever Hector Mercado became the 700th foreigner to play in Japan pro baseball (since Wally Yonamine joined the Tokyo Giants in 1951) when he made a brief appearance against the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes at Fukuoka Dome on May 19.
On Tuesday, June 15, the Yomiuri Giants will play as the visiting team in a regional ballpark for the first time in 35 years when they go up against the “home” team Yokohama BayStars at Kusanagi Stadium in Shizuoka. That will open a three-game series that concludes Wednesday and Thursday, June 16-17, at the ‘Stars regular home venue, Yokohama Stadium.
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