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Japan's greatest export? A look at some of the country’s best Major League Baseball stars

By Lawrence Mwiti
14 Comments

America’s Major League Baseball (MLB) has continued to experience a surge in popularity, as evidenced by the millions worldwide buying MLB tickets to watch their favorite teams and players or streaming and even betting on the games online. In fact, statistics show that the New York Yankees, which is one of the teams, are the most popular team in the league — with an estimated 27 million fans.

That said, some of the greatest players to ever grace the MLB come from Japan. In this article, we will look at four of these players: Ichiro Suzuki, Yu Darvish, Masahiro Tanaka and Shohei Ohtani, along with their overall impact on the MLB. These are just some of the Japanese players who have made a tremendous, having become very successful in professional baseball and are some of Japan's greatest exports to the sport.

Ichiro Suzuki: A baseball legend

Ichiro Suzuki is well known in the world of professional baseball, having established himself as a legendary Japanese baseball player overall. He began his professional career in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball (BPB) Pacific League in 1992 and was named the league's MVP three times. In 2001, he moved to the United States to play for the Seattle Mariners, becoming the first Japanese position player to appear in the major leagues.

During his time with the Mariners, he recorded the most hits in a single season (262) in 2004 and the most consecutive 200-hit seasons (10) from 2001 to 2010. He also won 10 consecutive Gold Glove awards for his defensive prowess.

In 2012, Suzuki joined the New York Yankees and became the second player to record 4,000 hits between the MLB and the NPB. After spending three years with the Miami Marlins, Suzuki retired from the MLB in 2019 with 4,367 hits. His legacy as one of baseball's greatest players will live on forever.

Yu Darvish: A star pitcher in the MLB

Yu Darvish is a professional baseball pitcher who currently plays for the San Diego Padres.

This player was previously part of the Texas Rangers, Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers. Darvish has been among the most successful pitchers in the league since his debut in 2012, having won three ERA titles in 2013, 2015 and 2016. He was also selected to five All-Star Games and won the World Series with the Dodgers in 2020.

Darvish is known for his wide array of pitches, including a fastball, slider, curveball, cutter, splitter, and changeup. His unique pitching style has made him one of the most feared pitchers in MLB today.

Masahiro Tanaka: One of the greatest professional pitchers

Masahiro Tanaka has significantly impacted Major League Baseball since he arrived in 2014.

He was the first Japanese-born pitcher to sign with an MLB team and quickly established himself as one of the best pitchers in the league. This achievement was no small feat, and it consecutively paved the way for other Japanese players to make their way into the MLB and has also changed how teams approach international scouting.

Tanaka's success has also helped to bridge the gap between American and Japanese baseball, as more teams are now looking to Japan for talent. Over the years, quite a number of Japanese players have been signed by major league teams as a result, as well as in the increased interest from fans around the world in both American and Japanese baseball.

Shohei Ohtani: The two-way star taking the MLB by storm

Shohei Ohtani is another excellent Japanese player who was able to pitch and hit in the same game since Babe Ruth. This is a rare skill not achieved by many regular baseball players. Nevertheless, it is witnessed that he has been consistent in doing it, much to the amazement of players and fans alike.

In addition to that, Ohtani has a fastball that can reach 100 mph and a batting average of 286. He's also hit eight home runs this season, which is astounding for someone who only bats occasionally. His versatility makes him a great asset to any club, as he can contribute to the team in the offense as well as defense.

Ohtani has also become such a great asset to the Los Angeles Angels team, and his future looks very bright. With his unique skill set, there's no telling what kind of impact he could have on baseball in the years to come.

To summarize, it is evident that the impact of Japan on the MLB is a massive one, particularly when it comes to exporting some of its top talents to the world scene. The likes of the legendary Ichiro Suzuki, who set new standards of excellence in hitting and fielding, to modern-day two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani, have captivated fans with their exceptional skills and passion for the game. Their success in Major League Baseball demonstrates the talent and intense preparation that Japan's baseball culture promotes.

Furthermore, these players have not only excelled on the field but have also served as ambassadors for Japanese baseball, connecting cultures and spreading global enthusiasm for the sport. As the legacy of today's Japanese players continues to inspire aspiring sportsmen in Japan, it is clear that the country's contribution to MLB extends beyond statistics; it is a monument to the indelible impression that these players have made on the international baseball community.

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14 Comments
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And Hideo Nomo, Hideki Matsui, and the man who really started it all, Masanori Murakami. And there are quite a few lesser known players from the recent past and currently playing. Japan is MLB primed.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I’ll tell you who it wasn’t.

It wasn’t Hideki “I only play for Yankees” Irabu.

What a scam he was.

It was pure comedy when he was a complete bust on the Yankees.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

How much does this import contribute to Japan's GDP?

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Yeah, we know about Irabu, but the guy had a difficult life and ended up committing suicide, let him be.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

What kind of article is this?

Yu Darvish missed the entire 2015 season, which would make it impossible for him to win an ERA title. In 2020, he was only with the Cubs, so it would follow that he did not win the World Series that year with the Dodgers.

Masahiro Tanaka was about the 40th Japanese pitcher to make it to MLB, fifty years after Murakami, and nineteen years after Nomo. That's not even remotely close to being the "first Japanese-born pitcher to sign with an MLB team."

Ohtani is not by any measure "someone who only bats occasionally."

This story is so full of inaccuracies I felt compelled to register an account.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

As with Infinite Justice this article compelled me to register also but for a different reason (although I agree with Infinite's points).

I was very pleased to see the very first comment by Gene identified Masanori Murakami as the true Japanese baseball pioneer.

I was very lucky to have the chance to meet him and drink a bit of wine with him for several hours at a function in Tokyo. I played college baseball and 2 years in the low minor leagues and played briefly in Fresno (California).

I was standing at a table by myself and he came and joined me. In the beginning I did not recognize who he was until some other folks came over...some asking for him to sign something. Murakami san and I had a chance to talk about this and he related his experiences in the San Francisco Giants farm system, also in Fresno, in the early 1960's....We joked about the old John Euless ballpark.

He was sent as a Japanese player with little or no English skills to what was at that time the American inaka and the stories he told about his experiences there were really amazing. The common language he had with his teammates was baseball....He endured and pitched quite well for San Francisco. He was not allowed to remain in the U.S. and had to return to Japan to play....one can only imagine how well he would have done. If I recall he did not speak well of the American food (he missed Japanese food tremendously).

Murakami san is the true Japan baseball pioneer, the true essence of a gentleman, and a great person with a tremendous amount of humility and decency.

I am very glad to know other people recognize him for breaking the ground for Japanese players.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Ohtani Shouhei gets all the publicity. What about Yu Darvish. Why?

0 ( +2 / -2 )

No mention of Hideo Nomo? Laughable.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

I got to see Hideo Nomo play! He was incredible during his tenure!!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I got to see Hideo Nomo play! He was incredible during his tenure!!

Yep. Not only that but he opened the door for NPB players to make the move to MLB.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

GLOAT,got beat 18 4 by Tampa Bay,Yoji Berra got 10 Othani 0 Mr Noctober

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

I couldn't agree less with the detractors of Shohei. It's phenomenal what he's doing. Baseball has never seen anything like him. The fact that he is Japanese doesn't matter, what he's doing does. To be a two-way player and to do both extremely well. . . there is no one to compare him to.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Let me add to the spot-on post of Infinite Justice

"Darvish has been among the most successful pitchers in the league since his debut in 2012, having won three ERA titles in 2013, 2015 and 2016."

This is wrong. Yu Darvish did not win ERA titles in 2013, 2014, 2015. The winners in A.L. were Jose Fernandez, Johnny Cueto and Jake Arrieta. (See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Major_League_Baseball_annual_ERA_leaders)

Doesn't Japan Today have an editor to fact check these articles? This is an embarrassment.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

2016 was Jon Lester

Yu Darvish won his lone ERA title in 2020 with Cubs

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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