Sad news came across last week about the death of Clete Boyer, the New York Yankees’ slick-fielding third baseman from the glory days of the early 1960s. Most obituaries failed to mention that Boyer, who died June 4 in Atlanta at the age of 70, ended his playing career in Japan with the then-Taiyo Whales in 1975.
Boyer was one of the first ballplayers I met in Japan, although he had retired and was a coach with the Whales when we first shook hands in 1976 at the old Kawasaki Stadium, that bandbox of a ballpark wedged between a race track and neighborhood housing about a 12 minute walk from JR Kawasaki Station, halfway to Yokohama from Shinagawa in Tokyo.
Those were the days when the 12 Japanese pro teams were allowed two foreign players per organization — period. Boyer, following a 17-year major league career with the Kansas City Athletics, the Yankees and the Atlanta Braves, joined the Taiyo club with second baseman Johnny Sipin in 1972.
He played the hot corner for four seasons with the Whales, batting .257 with 71 home runs and 218 RBIs in 419 games. Those were also the years when the Taiyo team wore apricot-colored jerseys with pistachio green lettering, trim, socks and caps at home. Their road uniform shirts were the opposite; green with soft orange letters and numbers. How many of you remember those?
The last time I saw Clete was in 1991 when he returned to Yokohama to play in a couple of old-timers games with former foreign players in Japan against members of the Meikyukai (GPC — Golden Players Club).
He will be recalled here as he was with the Yankees — as a slick-fielding third baseman and a steady ballplayer. I will remember him as a guy who offered a gesture of friendship when I was a young sportswriter just beginning to cover Japanese baseball 31 years ago.
Sadaharu Oh’s 18th annual World Children’s Baseball Fair will take place in Puerto Rico from July 29 to Aug. 6. The 2007 theme is “Catch Your Dream!” and 170 children from 14 countries will be invited. Participating countries are Australia, Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, France, Japan, Mexico, Nicaragua, Spain, the U.S. and Puerto Rico.
The kids will participate in a full week of baseball training which includes international exchange programs with local children and their families.
Oh said, “Because of the different languages, cultures and countries, the children normally get nervous on the first couple of days, but all of them, I am sure, will become like brothers and sisters after staying together for seven days.
“There are many boys and girls who have never experienced baseball before; however, they chase the balls with excitement on the field. Ten coaches will be appointed by the IBAF (International Baseball Federation) for the event.”
Because of his job as manager of the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, Oh-san cannot attend this year’s event, but he is to be commended for providing this opportunity for the youth of the world for so many years.
Reader Ken Smith had a follow up question to that column of May 27 in which I expressed my opposition to experienced, veteran Japanese players being classified as “rookies” in the major leagues.
Ken wrote in an e-mail: “There are a number of new gaikokujin players in both (Japanese) leagues this season. Why can’t these new foreign players be eligible for the Rookie of the Year award in the Pacific and Central Leagues?”
Nippon Professional Baseball does not consider a first-year foreign player as a rookie if he has had a professional career with a foreign league (even a minor league) before joining NPB.
So players such as Adam Hyzdu of the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, Lance Carter of the Orix Buffaloes, Damon Hollins of the Yomiuri Giants or Aaron Guiel of the Yakult Swallows are not qualified for Japan’s best rookie prize.
One who might be eligible is pitcher Alex Ramirez Jr., currently on the Tokyo Yakult Swallows farm team roster. He joined the Swallows last year without having any previous professional experience.
Another who could have been ROTY in 2006 is right-hander Victor Marte of the Hiroshima Carp. He was signed by the club out of its Dominican Baseball Academy and had no previous pro experience when he made his NPB debut.
The reason for this policy is the same one I brought up regarding Japanese players in MLB; it is not right to designate a veteran player with several years experience as a professional in a high-level league as a rookie.
With that, I would like to close the discussion on the topic of Japanese “rookies” in the majors.
Also from the e-mail box, fan Bill Chuck asked this: “Daisuke Matsuzaka’s next scheduled start is against Arizona’s Randy Johnson on Sunday (Monday morning Japan Time) in Phoenix. This means he will be required to bat. Has he ever done this? What are his totals?”
Although Matsuzaka played his entire pro career in Japan for the Seibu Lions in the DH-using Pacific League, he loves batting and is very good at it.
During inter-league play in games at Central League parks, Matsuzaka was 3-for-9 with a double and a home run in 2006. In 2005, the first year of inter-league games, he was 1-for-10. Expect him to try to help his own cause this week when he steps in against the “Big Unit.”
Finally this week, a clarification on last week’s column about Takeshi Yamasaki of the Rakuten Eagles. He was not acquired in the dispersal draft from the Orix BlueWave-Kintetsu Buffaloes merger. Rather, Yamasaki was released by Orix and subsequently signed by Rakuten as a free agent.
Contact Wayne Graczyk at
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