Pitcher Takashi Kashiwada turned 48 on Thursday. In 10 seasons with the Yomiuri Giants, the lefty went 4-2 with 1 save in 203 career games. More interestingly, he spent the 1997 season with the New York Mets, where he went 3-1 with a 1.69 WHIP in 35 games.
There was nothing overly special about Kashiwada except that through the 1999 season, he was 1-4 over 80 games in Japan. His lone major league season was the result of Bobby Valentine making a point.
Kashiwada went to the Mets because Valentine wanted to demonstrate that the talent level in Japan was much higher than people — even Japanese baseball people — believed. He wanted to show that even players who were not valued very highly here could contribute in the majors. To pull this off, he went to Giants manager Shigeo Nagashima and asked him for some surplus talent whom he had no expectations for in 1997.
“He suggested three guys, and I thought Kashiwada had the best chance, so we borrowed him for a year,” Valentine said a few years later. “I used him in situations where I thought he could succeed and he did well for us.”
Kashiwada returned to the shadows the following season, although between 1999 and 2000 he did pitch in 85-2/3 innings over 102 games for the Giants.
But for years what I remembered about Kashiwada was that he won one game in Japan before going to MLB, where he won three. After being ignominiously fired from as manager of the Lotte Marines after a successful 1995 season, Valentine kept coming back to Japan in the offseason. On one of those trips, I mentioned to him, incorrectly that Kashiwada still had only one win in Japan but three in MLB.
When Valentine held a press conference after returning to Japan to manage the Marines for the 2004 season, he made a point of repeating the erroneous story I’d passed to him to make his point about the quality of Japanese talent. When I realized my error, I made a point of apologizing for making him look like a liar the next time we spoke.
“Don’t worry about it,” Valentine said. “It was a good story.”