One of the things that has changed most about the Major League game between the time I started following the Yankees and now is the balance of trade when it comes to Major League Baseball and baseball in Japan.
Before WWII, the people of Japan had fallen in love with the game of baseball and Babe Ruth became just as popular in the Land of the Rising Sun as he was in our country. WWII of course changed the dynamic between the two countries. By the time I was Bradley’s age in the late 1950s, the bitter feelings and suspicions we Americans and the Japanese had for each other still lingered and carried over to each country’s professional baseball leagues. At the same time, however, the game of baseball was a passion shared by both peoples and it was that passion for a common game that would eventually help bring us together again.
The first American to play professional baseball in Japan after the War was a Japanese American and former NFL running back named Wally Yonamine, who played there in 1951. The first Japanese player to play in America was a left handed pitcher named Masanori Murakami who played for the Giants in 1964 and 65. By the time I was a teenager, the Japanese professional leagues had become a common destination for American players who were not quite good enough to make the rosters of Major League teams. By the time my sons were born in the late seventies and early eighties, Major League veterans, who’s best playing days were behind them in the US were finding new markets for their slowing bats and fast balls on the other side of the Pacific.
It took until 1995 for the pendulum to begin swinging and it was the one-time Yankee, Hideki Nomo who got it going in the other direction, when he signed to pitch with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Yankees first ever Japanese born roster member was pitcher Hideki Irabu, who began his career in pinstripes in July of 2007. The greatest Japanese-born Yankee to date has been Hideki Matsui. The big league successes of guys like Nomo, Matsui and especially Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki, have caused every Major League franchise to both begin and then expand their scouting operations in Japan.
Orestes Destrade was a classic example of a young Major League prospect who struggled to make a big league roster and then traveled to Japan and became a star in that country’s version of the same sport. I can remember when he hit a bunch of homers as a minor-leaguer for the Albany-Colonie Yankees during their 1985 season. The Yankees had predicted this left-hand-hitting Cuban native would be a thirty-home-run hitter, playing in Yankee Stadium. That never happened. He failed to hit a home run during his nine-game, 1987 stint in pinstripes. He had much more success in Japan, leading the league in home runs for three straight seasons from 1990-’92. He then returned to the States and managed to hit 20 round trippers for Seattle in 1993.
This one-time Yankee catcher was also born on May 8.
|FLA (2 yrs)||192||789||699||73||172||24||3||25||102||1||77||162||.246||.322||.396||.719|
|PIT (1 yr)||36||53||47||2||7||1||0||1||3||0||5||17||.149||.226||.234||.460|
|NYY (1 yr)||9||24||19||5||5||0||0||0||1||0||5||5||.263||.417||.263||.680|