Giants From Around the Globe:Japan


Each and every year, the talent pool from which a Major League organization can pull from grows larger. Baseball is still being introduced to different parts of the world, and those that have recently started playing it are getting better all the time. Countries like New Zealand are just now entering the baseball picture, while others like Japan have been providing big league talent for years. And that is where we’ll start. This is Giants From Around the Globe:A Series On Players From Other Countries.

More from SF Giants History

Prior to the debut of Masanori Murakami, no other big leaguer from Japan had ever played in a major league baseball game. The left handed pitcher out of Otsuki, Yamanashi, Japan was 6 feet tall and 180 pounds.

His first game was on September 1st, 1964, and at the age of twenty he would go on to appear in nine games, finishing five, with one win, a save and a 1.80 ERA down the stretch. Known for a screwball he was valuable side-armer coming out of the pen.

The following year, Murakami pitched in forty-five games, starting one, and finishing with a 4-1 record and a 3.75 ERA.

He shares the same birthday as the great Willie Mays (May 6th), but is thirteen years younger.

“Mashi” as teammates would call him, would head back to Japan due to his contractual obligations to his Japanese club. After returning to Japan, he had a successful seventeen-year career.

Other Japanese-born players Kensuke Tanaka, Keiichi Yabu, Tsuyoshi Shinjo, and most recently Nori Aoki also have played for the Giants.

Tanaka, an infielder, came over later in his career to take a crack at the major leagues. Debuting on July 9th of 2013, he was sent out to start in left field seven times to close out the season. He had one memorable catch at the wall, went 8-30 on the year, and eventually went back to Japan to continue his career there.

Yabu was a quality reliever who was another one of those hidden gems that Brian Sabean would come up with. He was a sturdy strike thrower who had made his debut with the Oakland A’s in 2005, pitching in 40 games with them (4-0, 4.50 ERA). He then made the Giants opening day roster three years later at the age of 39, and had a 3.67 ERA in 60 games. Very reliable, he was on the mound when the Giants turned a triple play against the San Diego Padres. He finished his career in Japan in 2010 with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of Nippon Professional Baseball.

Shinjo was an outfielder who had a cannon for an arm and closing speed that was remarkable. He was on the Giants 2002 National League championship team, but was thrust into a lead off role that he wasn’t made for. He hit .238 for the team, with nine home runs and five stolen bases. Had he been able to be eased into the line up by hitting lower in the order and gaining confidence, you never know what mark he would have left on San Francisco. He did, however finally win a championship in Japan with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters (who’s last title was in 1962) in 2006. He is now a TV celebrity in Japan and a model.

Aoki was an interesting case for the Giants last year. He played well when available, but could not seem to stay on the field consistently. A pest at the plate, his style of hitting is perfect out of the lead off spot. He hit .287 in 93 games for the team, and moved on to the Seattle Mariners in the off season. If healthy, he still has a few good years ahead of him.

Next: Belt Extension

This series will continue with more places from around the world who have provided us with Giants players.