On Thursday, Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki played in his last Major League game. His presence in the league paved the way for many Japanese-born players, including Chicago Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish.
Heroes will always be remembered, and legends will never die. No, Ichiro Suzuki never played for the Chicago Cubs, but he did have an impact on this organization in a different way.
Since Ichiro’s arrival in 2001, Japanese talent has made its way to North America. In 2003, Hideki Matsui made his big league debut for the New York Yankees, cementing his legacy as a feared hitter up until a 2012 departure.
Of course, the market for talent based out of Japan became a playground for general managers from each division. Baseball players and professional wrestlers are sacred warriors in the eyes of the Japanese people.
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It took the Cubs awhile – 2007 to be exact – when they signed outfielder Kosuke Fukudome to a four-year, $48 million contract. At the time, there was a ton of hype surrounding Fukudome’s signing.
Especially, after seeing what both Ichiro and Hideki were doing for their clubs. During his time with the Cubs, Kosuke became a fan favorite. At the end of his North Side run, Fukudome recorded 432 hits, 98 doubles, 12 triples, 37 homers, and 169 RBI while slashing .262/.369/.403.
He also played for the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox before returning to Japan in 2013.
Others to Follow
Fukudome was the first of several Japanese-born players to join the Cubs. Over the years Chicago brought in Kyuji Fujikawa, Hisanori Takahashi, Tsuyoshi Wada, Munenori Kawasaki, Koji Uehara, and finally, Yu Darvish.
Munenori was another fan favorite, loved by nearly every fan base on the planet due to his memorable personality. He also earned himself a World Series ring in 2016.
Obviously, as of right now, Wada has had the most success out of the group. In 21 appearances, Wada pitched 101 2/3 frames, holding a 5-5 record with an ERA of 3.36 and 88/30 K/BB ratio.
Best yet to come?
While Wada’s brief run with the Cubs could be tabbed as a success, Darvish will surely surpass him. Despite suffering a couple of hiccups along the way – one being Tommy John surgery – Yu Darvish has the potential to go down as one of the top Japanese-born pitchers to ever represent a Major League team.
Or possibly, like his and our childhood hero Ichiro, one of the greatest Japanese players in the history of the sport. This game will not be the same without 51.