ICYMI: There was a Japanese import that made MLB headlines worldwide. Yes, another one. His name is Masahiro Tanaka, and last week, a murky haze loomed over baseball as he signed with the Evil Empire in the Bronx for $155 million over the span of seven years.
Dude is 25 years old, has a missile launcher for an arm, focuses on three premium pitches — a 98 MPH heater, a wicked slider and a splitter that is supposed to rival Doc Halladay — and now, he is one of the richest pitchers in MLB history. Will he be a colossal bust or a stroke of brilliance? Shoot, will the guy even parallel the greatness of his countryman, Mr. Yu Darvish of Texas Rangers’ fame.
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However, there’s my muse for another installment of The Hit List: The Top 10 Asian Baseball Busts of All Time. Why? Because of a list of Ichiro, Nomo, Darvish and Matsui would be easy for anyone to write. The amount of suck and pine tar left in U.S. ballparks is much more entertaining to discuss.
10. Kazuhisa Ishii. Starting off our Asian baseball bust list is a guy known most for the ball he received rather than the ball he pitched. It was his first year in the big leagues, shortly after the Dodgers posted $11.5 million in 2002 (then paid $12.3 million to play him) to get his tail here. In the fourth inning against the Astros, Brian Hunter uncorked a line drive so hard back at Ishii that when it drilled his head, the ball ricocheted back to home plate. It was one of the worst comebackers ever, and was so gruesome, Japanese officials are rumored to fight copyright laws to get it off YouTube. His career lasted three years in the states and, according to the Japan Times, he is just now retiring.
9. Tsuyoshi Shinjo. Mets fans remember this heavily hair-gelled, Asian baseball bust. He was considered a “heartthrob” before people talked about his game. In summary: three years, two teams, one huge waste of time. He thought New York was a place to kick off his other passion — singing. Hell, Simon Cowell would have kicked his one-hit wonder self smooth off American Idol. The guy was more known for his colorful wristbands than his numbers, if that tells you anything. After a MLB career .245 with 20 homers, 100 RBIs and a lackluster .299 OBP, Shinjo quit and was set on becoming a nude model. Stay classy, Shinjo.
8. Takashi Kashiwada. While it’s true that Ishii and Shinjo lasted a skosh more than the sole year Kashiwada did, he wasn’t regaled like they were; nevertheless, he was an Asian baseball bust in a big way. Soon after Hideo Nomo set the big leagues on fire Godzilla-style, every team wanted their chance to get some overseas success. This flop was the New York Mets’ first foray into those dreary waters in 1997. He pitched 35 games in relief, went 3-1 with a 4.31 ERA. Why the quick departure from MLB? He decided it “wasn’t for him.” No, really?
7. Tsuyoshi Nishioka. The Minnesota Twins were counting on this soon-to-be Asian baseball bust in 2011. The team paid $11 million just to talk to him, and then signed him for $9.5 million more. Not too long after — six games not too long after — dude broke his leg like a chopstick in a bad patch of chicken fried rice. In two seasons, he hit a dynamite .215 with no home runs. He should have felt guilty. In fact, many argue he did so much that this is the reason he left $3.25 million in the Land of Lakes when he quit the majors. And he apologized. So there’s that, Twins. Yay?
5. Kaz Matsui. Would someone please tell the Mets to stop paying for Asian talent? They can’t find it. They suck at coaching it. It’s like Citi Field has been where Asian baseball busts go to be discovered. Typically, when a guy jacks the first pitch he sees in the states, you assume he’s special. First pitch of his next season, you think he’s great. First pitch of his third season and you know he’s Kaz Matsui and all hope is lost. Talk about a great first impression — three times, only to never impress again. Speaking of three, he signed for three years, $20 million. It’s only ironic the city he arrived in was called “Flushing” because that’s what happened to all that cash. *Flush!*
4. Kosuke Fukudome. He was the Japanese Eff-Bomb, and by the time he was whiffing all over Chicago creating more wind in that city, the eff-bombs were generously peppered across this paltry five-year career. When the Cubbies signed him, the town — not the team — thought it won the lottery. The price was four years, $48 million and was famously dubbed “options 1, 2 and 3” by Cubs GM Jim Hendry. How’d that work out? Oh yeah. After four years with the Cubs, he decides to splatter his crap all over the Chi and moves to the White Sox for a year. He goes 3-for-3 with a homer in his MLB debut and spared everyone else for five years. He’s somewhere in Japan pumping gas or playing baseball. Whatevs.
3. Kei Igawa. What would a list of busts be without the Yankees, right? I mean that in the nicest way possible, of course. You know, HOF busts, not Asian baseball busts. Anywho, overseas, this dude had the stuff. So much so, that the Yankees paid $26 million just to get his phone number. Then, they paid him $20 million for five years. Yeah, about that? He played six games, lost four of them and earned an ominous 6.66 ERA. He’s close to being considered the Ryan Leaf of baseball — $46 million left on the field and stuck to his pocket. For what? Being the spawn of Satan, if you ask anyone in New York. Fitting.
2. Daisuke Matsuzaka. His legend really preceded him — Dice-K. And the Boston Red Sox gambled on that dice to the tune of six years and $52 million. And that was after John Henry paid $51 million just to holler at Dice-K about his mythical “gyroball.” The only safe bet ended up how long it would take Matsuzaka to walk the lead-off batter. Surely, this was because of “Nomomania” but this vision of cherubs making it rain overhead just ended up crapping out. And so, the BoSox gave Dice-K his walking papers. But wait, he was picked up last year — by the Mets. Haven’t we had this discussion, people?!
1. Hideki Irabu. Yes, you knew it was coming. And the Yankees thought we would forget with the colossal whiff of No. 3. Nope, ever pressing to reinvent the wheel comes the Yankees rolling this magpie heap into the hallowed annals of New York baseball history. He’s the guy who will be forever dubbed as the “Fat Pussy Toad” by the Boss for failing to cover first in a spring exhibition game. Irabu was signed for four years and $12.8 million, played three years in the Bronx, two in Montreal and one for bullpen help in Texas. He was a drunken, troubled soul who could never live up the expectations placed upon him. And in 2011, he hanged himself. Irabu was 42.