10 Eagles fans drop $17,000 each to join Tanaka club

The Rakuten Eagles on Thursday needed just 14 minutes to sell all 10 memberships — at nearly $17,000 a pop — in an exclusive Masahiro Tanaka VIP club category of the Pacific League club’s Team Eagles fan club, Full-Count reported.

It’s the first time the team has had a club for an individual since its “1001 Club” for late Hall of Fame manager Senichi Hoshino. One thousand other memberships to the “Maa-kun Club” at $170 a piece also went on sale Thursday morning, with the team needing just 30 minutes to move 500 of those.

The prices in Japanese yen, 1.8 million and 18,000, are multiples of Tanaka’s No. They went on sale not at 10 a.m. when Japanese business typically open, but at 10:18.

“Franky, it took some guts to price the VIP at 1.8 million yen,” a team spokesperson said. “But that’s how much value the team believes Tanaka and Tanaka merchandise are worth, still there were those who thought it were opposed, saying it was ‘too expensive.'”

“We were taken back by the speed at which they sold, and were told that some thought 1.8 million was cheap.”

VIP members will receive a signed replica uniform, an official cap, and a one-day VIP pass priced at nearly $5,000 and other gifts, including an “MT18xNewERA pullover hoodie.”

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Yabuta’s ‘cheap trick’

Kazuki Yabuta made headlines on Thursday when Hiroshima Carp manager Shinji Sasaoka ended the first inning of an intrasquad game because he couldn’t bear to watch any more from the right-hander, Nikkan Sports reported.

Sasaoka sent him back out for the second inning and by the time Yabuta got a reprieve, he’d allowed nine runs in 2-1/3 innings of work… although I’m not sure if they gave him credit for three outs in the first or only counted that as a third of an inning.

“He looked like he was pitching halfheartedly,” the skipper said, which allowed me to learn the word “kotesaki” (小手先) which jisho.org defines as:

  • 1. Noun: tip of the hand; (use of) one’s hands​
  • 2. Noun: cheap trick; superficial wit; superficial cleverness​
  • 3. Adjective: cheap; makeshift (e.g. measures); shortsighted; perfunctory; halfhearted.

“Half-hearted” is my guess, but if Rolling Stones Magazine were ranking starts this spring by Carp pitchers the way they ranked the 500 greatest rock albums, Yabuta’s might rank, like Cheap Trick’s best-selling album “Cheap Trick At Budokan,” as No. 426 on the list.

Sasaoka, said he was in mood to hear explanations from the 28-year-old, so Yabuta might have pause before he breaks into a cover of “I want you to want me.”

“In the final phase of camp, pitchers are each getting one live game apiece to compete for roles,” Sasaoka said. “I wonder what he was thinking. It just looked like halfhearted pitching to me. He wasn’t using his lower body, so his pitches had no late movement, no zip, and were easy to hit.”

“When you’re in the final competition for a spot, excuses won’t do. At this stage, there are no guarantees you will get another chance. If you flame out, there are no more chances.”

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Warren Cromartie speaks

Warren Cromartie recently met with subscribers to talk about his experiences in the majors and in Japan and share his opinions on a variety of topics from “insensitive” comments by former Seattle Mariners CEO Kevin Mather to baseball in Montreal and new Red Sox reliever Hirokazu Sawamura.

Have a listen. If you want to take part in one of the live chats, you need to join jballallen.com on either a free or paid subscription.

Slugging it out in Japan, again

For the last two years, Cromartie has been living in Japan with his wife and child, and spent much of the 2019 season as an on-field advisor to the Giants.

Getting by in a foreign language

Asked about former Mariners CEO Kevin Mather’s candid comments about service-time manipulation and his characterization of players by their language skills, Cromartie talked about the challenges of playing in a country where many don’t speak your language.

Lost in translation?

Banzai

On-field celebrations can be a tricky subject for MLB players, but in Japan they are welcomed by fans and part of the scenery. So when former major leaguers get in the act there is sometime friction.

Japanese fans customarily cheer the players who drove in runs in the previous half inning as they take the field, upon which the players respond by tipping their caps, bowing or waving. Cromartie tells how his response became one of his trademarks.

Going to America

Asked about Japan stars back in the day that he thought could play in America. Of course prior to free agency, players couldn’t go during their career. And until Hideo Nomo proved otherwise, the prevailing belief both here and in the majors was that Japanese weren’t good enough.

Sawamura goes to the Sox

During his time with the Giants, Cromartie became familiar with right-handed reliever Hirokazu Sawamura, who recently signed with the Boston Red Sox.

Making adjustments in a new country

Everybody goes to Nicks…

…to paraphrase the line from “Casablanca.” On those few nights a year when all of NPB’s teams were in town, the imported players would all gather at Nicola’s Pizzeria in Roppongi, whose owner, Nick Zapetti, was the intriguing anti-hero of Robert Whiting’s “Tokyo Underworld.”

“There used to be two foreign players on a team. There would be times when all the teams would be in Tokyo at the same time, about two times a year, and we would all meet up at Nicks, this pizza place in Roppongi. It was like a brotherhood. We couldn’t wait to all get together. Whenever we played each other during the season, we’d always go out to dinner. We’d get the chance to see two other foreigners, the four of us would go out to dinner.”

–Greg “Boomer” Wells

Here’s what Crow had to say about those nights.

Bring back the Expos

On baseball in Montreal, it’s history and its future.

Should kids from America go straight to Japan?

Crow on conformity

Conformity is certainly a topic in Japan. Do all Japanese play the same way? I’m not convinced but there are times when watching a series of NPB at-bats is like a video representation of those “Can you spot the 10 differences” picture puzzles.

Sadaharu Oh

Ok. This time’s it’s Cromartie’s turn to talk about Sadaharu Oh.

That’s a hit in Double-A rookie

Cromartie talks about his rookie debut with the Expos against the then power Pittsburgh Pirates.

Is Japan’s hustle for show?

The balance of power in Japan

Cromartie expresses his views on the differences between Japan’s two leagues.

Kuwata’s back

Giants manager Tatsunori Hara this year brought former ace Masumi Kuwata onto his staff as a pitching coach, and Cromartie couldn’t be happier.

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Silent knights

From fans’ non-stop chanting to shouts that accompany every practice swing in every sport in every school across the nation, noise is such a prominent feature of sports in Japan, that one almost expects competitors in Shogi (Japanese chess) matches to shout every time they slap a piece onto the wooden board.

But on Monday, Hanshin Tigers manager Akihiro Yano and his coaches asked players to focus on the task of catching and throwing the ball without the seemingly obligatory shouts that ring reverberate through Japanese practices, the Nikkan Sports reported.

“It’s become second nature for players to shout, but even when doing that they seem to move lazily. We wanted to see how they looked without the shouting,” said Kazuki Inoue, whose job as head coach is primarily to keep players from being lazy and to ride them when they make mistakes–something that might not be a natural fit for the easy-going former Dragons outfielder.

Manager Yano said, “I thought the outfielders were more conscious of their throws, rather than shouting ‘Oi’ when they released the ball. I want them focused on executing and thinking, ‘That’s where I’m going to put the ball.'”

And when the ban on shouting was lifted, the story said, the players cheered loudly as if a weight had been lifted from their shoulders.

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Eat your Wheaties

One doesn’t make light of the coronavirus pandemic, but it has given us some great moments by making coaches’ and players’ audible during games, as happened Monday in a Yomiuri Giants intrasquad game at Okinawa Cellular Stadium.

Hiroyuki Nakajima hit a ground rule double he thought was a home run and as he was ordered back to second by the umpire, one could hear voices from the dugout giving him — as they used to say on “Leave it to Beaver — the business.

“You should drink protein,” and “Eat more rice,” were two of things shouted at Nakajima as he retreated to second base.

As a young shortstop with the Seibu Lions, Nakajima had a tremendous physique and generated a lot of power, so in a March 2011 interview I asked about his training and nutrition regimen.

“I lift, but I don’t take any extra nutrition or supplements, unless my teammates give me amino acid stuff, and then I take those to humor them,” he said then, making me wonder if that is still his routine and if a teammate might have been on the money.

In Monday’s live chat with Warren Cromartie, I mentioned how new pitching coach Masumi Kuwata was ridiculed by former players for doing weight training in the 1980s. There is a suspicion of weight training among older players in Japan, which makes little sense. It’s almost as if to engage in strength training goes against the nation’s snobbish assertion that Japanese players are good, despite lacking physical strength, because they practice to the ends of the earth to execute in games.

Japan’s Colonel Curmudgeon, Isao Harimoto recently said of players doing weight training in camp, “The game is about hitting a ball with a bat. The time spent building muscles that might hinder you as a hitter or a pitcher would be better spent practicing hitting and pitching.”

Every team has weight rooms and strength coaches, but many teams see them as more of an accessory for the players who want to make use of them. I used to think all the teams hired strength coaches based on expertise, but according to players, some teams apparently use that position as just another way to employ a former player with few other job prospects.

Had Shohei Ohtani played for a different team than the Nippon Ham Fighters, it’s possible he would have only acquired more knowledge about strength training on his own. In 2018, Hanshin Tigers pitcher Shintaro Fujinami revealed he’d been a pro for five seasons and had never been taught about the need for nutrition or recovery.

With the Fighters, the organization sets the strength and fitness programs, but Japanese style is for the manager to make changes if he doesn’t like what’s going on. A few years ago a Lions trainer told me that nothing had changed in the way Lions players were expected to train in his five seasons there.

The Hawks did a 180 when Kimiyasu Kudo, who studies sport science, became manager. Their previous GM, Itaru Kobayashi, had expanded the club’s medical and training staff base, but under old-school manager Koji Akiyama, the staff’s input was limited. Kudo changed things.

Whether Nakajima takes protein now or not at his age is no big deal, but it perhaps a good sign that some on the Giants bench at least knew enough to rib him about it.

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Leon and bob’s wonderful wayback machine

As promised, here are the videos of last week’s live zoom chat featuring author Robert Whiting and former Japanese pro baseball star Leon Lee.

Bob was gracious enough to share more than an hour of his time, so I’ll add that you can now pre-order his memoir “Tokyo Junkie.” I haven’t read it but I’m sure it will be a page turner. Bob is a master story teller who saw all of Tokyo from its seedy early 60s glory to its slicker, more polished facade of today.

Bob’s 1st game

So where did the Robert Whiting phenomenon as a baseball icon begin? I’ve pegged that date down to July 17, 1962, when Oh and Nagashima each homered in both games of a doubleheader at Tokyo’s Korakuen Stadium, with a crowd

Leon Lee on the WBC

On Ichiro Suzuki

More about Ichiro as a class act

Sibling rival Lees

Leon was asked about playing as a teammate with his older brother Leron during their time with the Lotte Orions, and we learn about their one fight.

The “gaijin strike zone”

You’ve all head about it, but Leon said a veteran Central League umpire, the late Kiyoshi Hirako, explained the strike zone to him. I mention Hirako, who retired in 1992. Because he’s famous for misjudging a ball off the center-field wall at Koshien Stadium as a game-tying home run on Sept. 11 of that year, that resulted in a 6-hour, 26-minute, 15-inning game between the Swallows and Tigers.

How Ichiro got into the WBC

OK, so this is my story, but we were on the topic of Sadaharu Oh, Ichiro and the WBC, my apologies to those who’ve heard it before.

Sacrifices

I wrote a while back about how Japan’s quality-control-is-in-our-blood nonsense that was pedaled around the world in the 1980s to explain Japan’s economic “miracle” seemed to infect baseball, and so I asked Bob if he knew more about it. The article was really about why pitchers batting eighth, once a fairly common practice in Japan was eradicated in the 1970s.

Since the chat, I had a back-and-forth with Bob about how often the old Giants bunted and I’ve written about that, too.

Practice makes more practice

Bob talks about Japan’s passion for practice

Bob Horner in Japan

Lee had the pleasure of being Bob Horner’s teammate with the Yakult Swallows for one year, and he spills on some of the memorable highlights of that season.

Discipline in Japanese baseball

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writing & research on Japanese baseball

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