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Baseball Analysis Home   Jim Albright / the japanese insider


By Jim Albright

For this article, my primary sources on who was born outside of Japan is Carlos Bauer’s All-Time Japanese Baseball Register and the The 1998 Japan Pro Baseball Fan Handbook and Media Guide edited by Wayne Graczyk  Bauer gives the statistics in encyclopedia form for all North American players plus all the players meeting certain criteria, like 1500 games played or who won a batting title.  There are too many to list, but I think you get the idea.

I chose to focus on whether or not a player was born outside Japan for this article. This decision gave me an easy way to decide who was in and who was out. One could stretch the point and consider men born to at least one non-Japanese parent to be eligible for this article. The team would be much stronger, as it would then add Sadaharu Oh (whose father was Chinese), Masaichi Kaneda (he was half Korean), Isao Harimoto (again, half-Korean), and Sachio Kinugasa (his father was a black American GI), for some prominent examples. If I went that far, though, I'd have spent an inordinate amount of time investigating family trees, and I had no desire to do so. Further, the chances of inaccuracies sneaking into the article would have increased unacceptably. Nevertheless, the four men mentioned above were often treated like outsiders in the land of their birth. It may even be that they each tried to prove they were truly Japanese by being especially dedicated to ideals emphasized heavily in Japan, such as the value of hard work. In fact, their successes may have been fueled by their special dedication to hard work, in that the work may have honed their natural talents to an even finer edge than one would ordinarily expect.

Greatest Foreign Born Players
(minimum 350 points)
Rank Name Pos   Score
1.   Victor Starffin P 684
2.   Tadashi Wakabayashi   P 552
3.   Shosei Go OF 459
4.   Bobby Rose 2B 424
5.   Roberto Petagine 1B 406
6.   Tuffy Rhodes OF 396
7.   Hiroshi Oshita OF 383
8.   Wally Yonamine OF 375
9.   Boomer Wells 1B 366
10.   LeRon Lee OF 363

I started with the idea of a 25 man team, consisting of 16 position players and nine pitchers. I wanted at least two men to a position, and no one could serve as the sole backup at two positions. Also, the pitching staff had to have at least five guys who started more games than they relieved in at least one year. Finally, I chose a manager using the manager's success point system, described here.

Greatest Gaijin Roster
Pos   Starter Name Pos   Backup Name Pos   Pitcher Name
C Bucky Harris C Charlie Lewis P Victor Starffin
1B Roberto Petagine 1B Boomer Wells P Tadashi Wakabayashi
2B Bobby Rose 2B John Sipin P Genji Kaku
3B-1B   Leo Gomez   1B-3B   Leon Lee P Gene Bacque  
SS-3B Tony Roig SS Larry Raines   P Taigen Kaku
OF Shosei Go OF Wally Yonamine P Joe Stanka
OF Tuffy Rhodes OF LeRon Lee P Rodney Pedraza
OF Hiroshi Oshita OF Warren Cromartie   P Dong Yeol Sun
mgr Tadashi Wakabayashi       P Glenn Mickens

CATCHER    Bucky Harris 131 points
Came to Japan out of the Pacific League in the 1930's. My guess is he knew at least some Japanese and therefore could handle communicating with pitchers that way. I have no how he learned the language, though there are any number of possibilities. Does anybody know?

CATCHER    Charlie Lewis 116 points
The fact we've got to go as low as 116 points to get two catchers highlights the issue of pitcher-catcher communication. Again, I'd guess Lewis could speak enough Japanese to get by, though I'd guess he learned it in the service in WWII. Does anybody know? Played only two seasons in Japan, but they were both of high quality.

FIRST BASE   Roberto Petagine 406 points
He has hit over .300 with at least 34 HR in each of his six seasons to date. He adds excellent walk totals, at least 77 a year. His career lows are .316 average, .432 on-base percentage, and .601 slugging. Most players don't reach those levels as career highs.

FIRST BASE    Boomer Wells 366 points
He was a large man who Robert Whiting in You Gotta Have Wa describes as being 6 feet, 5 inches tall, 250 pounds and "built like a redwood tree." He was a powerful righthanded hitter, and hit what is considered the longest home run in Japanese history, 532 feet.

FIRST BASE-THIRD BASE   Leon Lee 343 points
I kept him because he played more than 1500 estimated defensive innings at third, and scored more Excellence Plus points than any other foreign born player who played at least that many defensive innings at third. He and his brother LeRon both adapted well to Japan. Leon played for three teams in ten seasons. His career average in NPB is .308 with 268 career HR. He hit .300 or more 8 times, and hit 30 or more HR 5 times. His best year was 1980, when he hit .341 with 41 HR. He won a Best Nine Awards at both first and third base.

SECOND BASE    Bobby Rose 424 points
Played 8 seasons in Japan, and only once was his average under .300, and that was .296. His low in on-base percentage was .362, and his low in slugging percentage was .455. Had a high of 37 HR in 1999, but otherwise hit 15-22 HR a year. In 1999, he had a .369 avg, .439 OBP, and a .655 slugging pct! He won 6 Best Nines at second along with one Gold Glove. His career marks are superb, especially for a middle infielder: 167 HR, .325 avg, .402 OBP, and .531 slugging pct.

SECOND BASE    John Sipin 341 points
Won 2 Best Nines and 2 Gold Gloves at second while compiling a .297 average in 3779 AB. He supplemented that nice record with 218 career HR and a .536 career slugging mark. Only the brevity of his NPB career holds him back from a Japanese Hall of Fame caliber career.

THIRD BASE-FIRST BASE   Leo Gomez 294 points
Played for the Baltimore Orioles in the majors. There's more about him in the Dragons' section of the franchise all-stars article, and you can find it by clicking on Leo's name, which will take you to my index of everything I've written on Leo, and you'll find the link there. He's the only guy whose primary position is third that I kept, but both Leon Lee and Tony Roig could fill in at third.

SHORTSTOP-THIRD BASE   Tony Roig 242 points
There haven't been many successful gaijin shortstops. My theory is that if they're good enough defensively to play short in the high minors or above and carry a good enough bat to be a standout in Japan, they can find jobs in the states at second, third, or maybe even the outfield in the majors rather than go to Japan. Roig played six seasons in Japan, and had only one where he hit over .260 (.292 in 1965). One reason for this is he came to Japan at age 36. Also, he had a power swing for Japan, hitting 126 homers in those six years, which is good for a third baseman and excellent for a shortstop.

SHORTSTOP    Larry Raines 165 points
According to Clark and Lester's Negro Leagues Book, Raines was born in West Virginia in 1930 and played in the Negro Leagues in Chicago in 1951 and 1952. He then went to Japan at age 23 and had two excellent seasons. He returned to the states and the minor leagues and eventually made it to Cleveland in the majors for 103 games in 1957 and 1958. He then returned to the minors, and in 1962, he went back to Japan for his last season in organized ball.

OUTFIELD    Shosei Go 459 points
He was only 5 foot, 6 inches tall and weighed only 140 pounds, but was known as "The Human Locomotive", almost certainly because of his speed. He was born in 1916 in Taiwan, when it was a Japanese colony. He was a lefty hitter who won two batting titles, a stolen base title, and also pitched a no hitter in the early days of NPB.

OUTFIELD    Tuffy Rhodes 396 points
Still active, and from 2001-2003, hit 152 homers, including one season to tie the Japnese single season mark of 55. He's also hit .300 or more in three seasons in NPB. For more about him, click on his name to go to the index of what I've written about him.

OUTFIELD   Hiroshi Oshita 383 points
He won 3 home run titles, and hit .303 for his career on the strength of nine seasons in which he qualified for a batting title and hit .300 or better.

OUTFIELD   Wally Yonamine 375 points
Even though he and Kawakami were teammates, they were rivals more than anything else. Add to that Kawakami's chauvanistic all-Japanese NPB notions, and it is hardly a shock that once Kawakami became the Giants' manager, Yonamine was released. In Kawakami's defense, Yonamine hadn't played well in 1960 (a .228 average with 5 HR in 399 AB) and was even worse for the 1961 Dragons. Yonamine eventually extracted a measure of revenge by managing the Dragons to the 1974 Central League pennant to end the Kawakami "V-9" Giants' reign.

OUTFIELD    LeRon Lee 363 points
Came to Japan at age 29. His single season highs were .358 avg, 34 homers, and 109 RBI. The rating system indicates his best season was his first, when he hit .317 to finish fourth in the seasonal batting race and added his career highs in homers, RBI, and slugging percentage.

OUTFIELD   Warren Cromartie 338 points
He wrote an interesting autobiography called Slugging It Out in Japan. The chapters discussing his seven seasons in Japan are by far the best aspect of the book. His perspective on the life of gaijin is interesting and informative. He won three Best Nine Awards as well as the 1989 MVP for the Central League.

PITCHER   Victor Starffin 684 points
The most productive gaijin of them all was this man, Japan's first 300 game winner. He pitched over 4000 innings in his career. He won 2 MVPs and a Best Nine award, led the league in wins 6 times, in winning percentage once, strikeouts twice, and ERA once.

PITCHER   Tadashi Wakabayashi 552 points
He won 237 games against 144 losses in over 3500 innings with a 1.99 career ERA. He won the MVP twice.

PITCHER    Genji Kaku 284 points
This Taiwanese pitcher won an MVP, led the league in saves twice and in ERA once. He had 88 saves from 1987 through 1989.

PITCHER    Gene Bacque 220 points
His best season was 1964, when he went 29-9 with a league leading 1.88 ERA in 353.1 innings to lead the Tigers to a pennant. He won a Best Nine Award and a Sawamura Award for that performance. Overall, he pitched nearly 1600 innings in NPB with a 2.34 career ERA. He had a no-hitter in Japan in 1965 against the Giants. He's the only American to win the Sawamura. He was known for throwing brushback pitches and liked to ridicule batters when he pitched to them, which isn't the Japanese way. Two players he seemed to take particular delight in mocking were Sadaharu Oh and Shigeo Nagashima, according to Robert Whiting in Chrysanthemum and the Bat

PITCHER    Taigen Kaku 195 points
Another Taiwanese, he won 1 MVP, 1 Best Nine Award, and two Gold Gloves. He also led the league in winning percentage twice.

PITCHER    Joe Stanka 176 points
He won an MVP and a Best Nine Award in 1964 for leading the Hawks to the Japan Series title. Gaijin pitchers were big stars that year, with Gene Bacque pulling down his awards. The only award Stanka and Bacque were eligible for the the 1964 regular season that they didn't win was the CL MVP, which went to Sadaharu Oh for his record-setting 55 HRs. Stanka's 1964 marks were 26-7 with a 2.40 ERA in 277.2 innings, which led the league in winning percentage.

PITCHER   Rodney Pedraza 154 points
This Texan born in 1969 was active in 2003, but only pitched 6 innings with a 12.00 ERA. From 1999 to 2002, he saved 117 games for the Hawks.

PITCHER    Dong Yeol Sun 148 points
This right-handed Korean saved 95 games between 1997 and 1999 for the Dragons.

PITCHER    Glenn Mickens 141 points
This right hander pitched for the Buffaloes between 1959 and 1963 and had a career 2.55 ERA.

MANAGER   Tadashi Wakabayashi 14.66 manager success points
He won two pennants in the one league era, in which the Japan Series didn't exist.

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