Chicago Cubs: Remembering 2008 as the year of Kosuke Fukudome
I graduated high school the same year Kosuke Fukudome made his debut for the Chicago Cubs. Lauded as one of the top free agents that year, Fukudome landed with the Cubs after a battle for his services ensued, which reportedly included the San Diego Padres and crosstown-rival Chicago White Sox.
Fukudome is an enigma in Cubs’ history. At the time of his signing, the Cubs were fresh off an 85-win season and a postseason appearance the year prior. However, the first-round exit made Chicago hungry for more, and general manager Jim Hendry wanted to make a splash.
If you follow baseball in-depth, you’ll know the international market is strange. Teams will make a star player available for negotiations set by a listing fee of a specific dollar amount for Major League Baseball teams to negotiate a contract. Ultimately the Cubs would land Fukudome on a four-year, $48 million deal. Unfortunately, the rest of the story exists in hazy detail.
Chicago Cubs: Kosuke Fukudome was the jolt the club needed
Fukudome made his major league debut at the crisp golden age of 31 in 2008. His first season was outstanding as he appeared in 150 games and notched 590 plate appearances. It was a breath of fresh air and the jolt the Cubs needed.
That first go-round, Fukudome slashed a respectable .257/.359/.379 with ten home runs and 58 RBI. He also swiped 12 bases. Impressively, Fukudome kept a very modest strikeout rate of just 17.6 percent while managing free passes at a rate of 13.7 percent. His plate discipline was astoundingly astute for someone freshly breaking into Major League Baseball.
The right fielder finished his first season with a slightly below-average 91 wRC+ but did manage to post a 1.4 WAR and earned an All-Star nod. He also finished sixth in Rookie of the Year voting as another young member of the Cubs, Geovany Soto, took home the hardware.
Of everything exciting that happened in that first season for Fukudome, none may have been more so than his very first game. In front of the hometown sold-out crowd on Opening Day, the final day of March, the Cubs faced the division rival Milwaukee Brewers. Down 3-0 in the bottom of the ninth facing Eric Gagne, the Cubs were down to their last gasp when Fukudome stepped to the plate.
Already having produced a perfect day at the dish, Fukudome worked Gagne to a 3-1 count before putting the sweet spot on a dead-red fastball that flew into the bleachers in right-center to tie the game at three. The Cubs would end up losing the game in the tenth inning, but the legacy of Fukudome had already been unleashed.
Fukudome would play 501 games in a Cubs uniform in his short professional career, which lasted five seasons before his return to Japan. While it is difficult to imagine exactly what the expectation for Fukudome at the time was considering his age, it should be safe to assume he reached his value for the Cubs. They returned to the postseason in 2008 and finished the regular season with 97 wins.
Like I said, Fukudome was an enigma for the Cubs. His fandom and the excitement he brought to Wrigleyville in 2008, however, is something fun fans can hold close to their hearts as 2008 became and will always be known as the ‘Year of Fukudome’.