One photo and one report circulating in the press last week brought up the subject of players happier who are playing for the Yomiuri Giants and those who insist on working only for Japan’s most storied club.
The photo was of smiling Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters manager Masataka Nashida with his arms around two guys just acquired in a trade from Yomiuri — infielder Tomohiro Nioka and lefty pitcher Masanori Hayashi.
The expressions on the faces of both players, in contrast with the grinning Nashida, make it appear each had just been sentenced to a long prison term. To put it simply, they did not look happy.
As for the report, it is the article about industrial league outfielder Hisayoshi Chono of Honda Motors, who declined to join the Chiba Lotte Marines, the pro team that drafted him, so he can enter the amateur draft again next year. He wants to play only for the Giants.
Chono’s attitude brings back memories of Suguru Egawa, star pitcher for Hosei University who said in 1977 after his graduation, “I will not play for anyone but Yomiuri.”
Despite his wish not to be drafted, he was chosen by the then-Crown Lighter Lions of Fukuoka in the Pacific League but kept his word, refused to sign with the Lions and sat out a year. In 1978, he was drafted by — of all teams — the Hanshin Tigers, archrivals of the Giants.
Again Egawa would not budge and, eventually, he was traded from the Tigers to the Giants for ace pitcher Shigeru Kobayashi, even though there was a rule in place prohibiting the trading of rookies. Egawa went on to pitch nine seasons for the Giants, retiring in 1987. He is now a TV commentator on Yomiuri games.
Then there was infielder Daisuke Motoki, another guy insistent on playing for the Giants — or not playing at all. He was drafted out of high school by the then-Daiei Hawks in 1989 but, like Egawa, refused to play in Fukuoka, sat out a season and got his wish when Yomiuri drafted him in 1990.
Motoki played 15 seasons but never developed into what you would call a star player. The Giants released him following the 2005 season, and the Orix Buffaloes wanted to hire him for 2006. Motoki, however, was still not interested in playing for another club and retired, following Egawa into broadcasting where he comments on Giants games for TBS Radio.
Since free agency was introduced to Japanese baseball 15 years ago, several veteran players from other Central and Pacific League teams have moved to the Giants for the prestige, publicity and — yes — the money. Over the years, those who have jumped to the Kyojin include Akira Eto and Kazuhisa Kawaguchi from the Hiroshima Carp, Ken Kadokura from the Yokohama BayStars, Katsumi Hirosawa from the Yakult Swallows and Hiromitsu Ochiai and Shigeki Noguchi from the Chunichi Dragons.
Others are Kimiyasu Kudo from the Daiei Hawks, Kazuhiro Kiyohara and Kiyoshi Toyoda from the Seibu Lions and Michihiro Ogasawara from the Fighters.
Foreign players too have abandoned other clubs for the orange-and-black, most notably and recently Alex Ramirez and Seth Greisinger from the Swallows and Marc Kroon from Yokohama.
I can only think of one Japanese player who quit the Giants after qualifying for FA status — first baseman Norihiro Komada. He was criticized in the press for not hitting well in 1993 when the Giants were struggling, and he left for the BayStars in 1994, becoming one of the key hitters in the Yokohama “machine gun” batting attack that won the Japan Series in 1998.
Let’s get back, though, to Hayashi and Nioka and the reasons they appeared shell-shocked in that photo. Hayashi, a Chiba native and No. 7 draft choice of the Giants out of high school in 2001, is 25 and most likely figured he was just coming into the prime of his career wearing the “YG” cap. Suddenly, he gets sent off to Hokkaido and, although the Fighters are a good team, there is something about leaving the high-profile Giants.
Nioka had a nightmare season in 2008. He was injured most of the year and lost his job to 19-year-old Hayato Sakamoto as the Yomiuri starting shortstop, a position he had dominated since 1999, his rookie year. On top of that, he was allegedly involved in a sex scandal.
Although he came back and played a few games later in the season, Nioka, 32, must have known the end of his career with the Kyojin was at hand and the happy days, such as when he slammed a pennant-winning “sayonara” home run against the Chunichi Dragons in 2000, were over.
So, it seems, although the Yomiuri club may have lost some of its glory image the past, there are still players who refuse to sign with any other team beside the Kyojin, and others dropped by the Giants are disappointed — sometimes devastated — when they leave.
|* * * * *|
Finally this week, a word from Heather MacFarlane, public relations manager for the Home for Little Wanderers, the oldest child and family services agency in the United States and one of the largest in the Boston area. The home will be auctioning online a one-of-a-kind item, a Daisuke Matsuzaka autographed baseball in a shadow box.
The box comes complete with a 20-cm x 25-cm action photo of Dice-K and includes a hand-signed MLB baseball displayed below the photo. It is matted in red suede, framed in black wood and comes with a Major League Baseball hologram for proof of authenticity.
Proceeds will benefit at-risk children, many of whom are victims of abuse and neglect. The auction runs through Dec. 17. To check it out and make your bid, access the auction on the Web at www.thehome.org/auction.
Contact Wayne Graczyk at wayne@JapanBall.com
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.