Thursday, January 24, 2008

NPB Roundup - Money Riceball

Seriously, the problem with the Japanese baseball news at this point is that most of it is things like which guys are going to be in the ichi-gun or ni-gun camps for spring training, which starts in about a week (yay!!)... or random gossip about players and what trips they're making for personal training time, or some last-minute contract-signing stuff (such as Old Man Shimoyanagi finally agreeing to a 2-year deal with the Tigers), or whatever else people think is worth reporting about, even if it's something like "Sho Nakata's mom rants about her son".

Mostly I just skim articles and go "Er, whatever" a lot of the time, but tonight when I came across one saying that Orix Buffaloes manager Terry Collins came back to Japan and essentially said "Hamanaka? Who the hell is that?" about Osamu Hamanaka, I was thinking that they're REALLY stretching it for stories. To be fair, Orix did the Hirano-Hamanaka trade like two months ago now and have been hyping the "Kiyo-Hama" combination. Erm.

Senichi Hoshino's 61st birthday was on Tuesday, and there was a big party for him. I saw it on TV a bit, but here's a picture of him eating a special "2008" rice-baseball and curry. He said that he hopes to eat delicious curry again in August", following the Olympics, I suppose :) It's funny how I never really understood why Hoshino is so well-liked until I came here and saw him on TV all the time, and now I get it. He oozes charisma.

I also just realized that I never mentioned here about Koji Yamamoto and Tsuneo Horiuchi being elected to the Japanese baseball HOF. (Press conference photos here.) I really ought to get down there and check out the new HOFer stuff and the Hoshino Japan exhibit. Hmm.

The funny part is, in college, one of my Japanese professors had a Tsuneo Horiuchi poster up on her wall. I asked her who he was, and she told me how great a pitcher he was, and how great it was to be a Giants fan in their V9 days. She grew up in Tokyo and was a gigantic Giants fan. She said that pretty much EVERYONE in Japan was a Giants fan. It took me a while to find out how untrue that statement was, of course.

Which also reminds me -- since putting my Fighters calendar up on my wall at work, which has new manager Nashida as the January guy, I've had comments anywhere from "Why the heck is Nashida your manager? He's not even a Fighters OB. Is it because Takada went to manage the Swallows?" from one guy, to "Ohhh, I remember when Nashida was young. He was VERY cool and had MANY female baseball fans!" from one woman. As for my Dragons calendar, which is on the other wall, the overwhelming reaction has been "Why is Kosuke Fukudome in this calendar? He isn't on the Dragons anymore."

And that leads me into my latest conspiracy theory. See, the Swallows and Fighters both recently posted their "welcome to the new guys!" about the players involved in the 3-for-3 trade a week ago. The Fighters welcomed Fujii, Miki, and Sakamoto, who will wear #18, #33, and #30 respectively, and the Swallows welcomed Hashimoto, Oshimoto, and Kawashima (sigh), who will wear 35, 65, and 00 respectively.

Anyway, I had this weird realization that the aforementioned new Yakult manager Shigeru Takada... just spent a 3-year stint as the general manager of the Nippon Ham Fighters. And he even would have been at the helm to draft Kawashima, and Hashimoto and Oshimoto came in the two previous years. I'm not sure why, but this just feels very Gillick-like to me -- a GM switching teams and then grabbing some of his old prospects to follow him. Although I suppose it can't be THAT Gillick-like, being as he traded away veterans to get younger players.

In other news, Seibu outfielder GG Sato attempted to go into salary arbitration to be the seventh Japanese player in history to do so. However, he was denied. I have to admit I don't really understand the system at all, and it's true, you rarely ever hear about players here going to arbitration. (Come to think of it I haven't seen any crazy stories about holdouts/etc this year; I must just not be reading enough articles, but it's plainly nowhere near as exciting as last year with Sekimoto's crying, Satozaki's yawning, and Morino's dragonbutting.)

It also seems that most teams have their rosters pretty set now. Wayne Graczyk talks about this year's foreigners in the Japan Times, and this week's Shukan Baseball is the "money issue", in which we find out that Ichiro's 2008 salary is larger than the 2008 team payrolls for the Hiroshima Carp and the Rakuten Golden Eagles. I mentioned this in a class tonight to try to get a discussion started about economics, but instead it turned into a discussion about how they all need to make sure they teach their children to bat left-handed and run very fast.

Also, in case you're curious, the payrolls from this chart:

Giants: 53.9-oku
Dragons: 38.2-oku
Tigers: 36.5-oku
Baystars: 23.6-oku
Yakult: 22.8-oku
Carp: 15.5-oku

Hawks: 34.5-oku
Marines: 26.4-oku
Fighters: 23.3-oku
Orix: 23.4-oku
Seibu: 21.8-oku
Rakuten: 17.3-oku

Of course, these aren't exact figures -- they had an estimate for Shimoyanagi's salary, for example -- but still, it's kind of scary.

Speaking of the Hawks and Giants, an image that pretty much showed up on every sports site possible, rightfully, is one of Sadaharu Oh, Shigeo Nagashima, and Isao Harimoto hanging out together at a celebration dinner recently. I'm not sure what the MLB equivalent would be, but it'd be something to the effect of if you could get Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Ty Cobb to pose for a picture together. Again, Japan is really lucky in some ways that its legendary baseball figures are mostly still alive, although that's becoming less true.

In fact, I was noticing that a lot of former Nishitetsu guys have been dying lately, what with Inao and Hanai passing away in December, and then earlier this week Hirokazu Katoh died at the age of 56 of lung cancer. Katoh spent most of his early career languishing on Nishitetsu's ni-gun team, then spent a few years breaking into the Hanshin Tigers lineup before he eventually became a base-stealing terror with the Yokohama Taiyo Whales for a few years in the mid-80's, even ending up on one all-star team. He worked as a media analyst after retiring as a player.

I heard about Katoh's death while I was at a baseball card shop looking through cards from the early 1990's Yokohama teams; it was announced on the evening news. Katoh's last year as a pro player was 1990, with the Whales -- a team that had a young hotshot pitcher named Kazuhiro Sasaki who would become a star closer a few years later, a not-so-hotshot pitcher named Tadanori Ishii who would become a hotshot shortstop named Takuro Ishii a few years later, a kid named Motonobu Tanishige who would become one of the best defensive catchers in Japan's history, and a big slugger named Jim Paciorek who would go on to be awesome for Hanshin two years later before fading away. Oh yeah, they also had a guy named Masahiro Takahashi who I would see going 3-for-4 in a Master's League game 17 years later, but that's beside the point. I thought it was really surreal to be digging through the early 1990's Baystars and then to hear about Katoh's death. At least it put it all in context, I guess.

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