Friday, April 04, 2008

Field of Dreams: My All Asian Fantasy Baseball Team

As I've discussed on these pages before, two of my greatest passions in life are (1) being a proud Asian-American man, and (2) baseball. 
So it's only natural that I have a special place in my heart for any MLB baseball players of Asian descent (even if they do play for those dreaded Yankees.) Part of it has to do with the inherent pride when we see people who look like us achieve success in any field. However, a big part of my love and admiration for Asian baseball players has to do with the fact that they are our greatest weapons in battling mainstream media's perception of the emasculated Asian male. 
Look at some of the Asian baseball players in MLB today. Future Hall-of-Famer and perennial All-Star Ichiro Suzuki, with his matinee idol good looks, has modeled for the cover of GQ while making a strong argument for being one of the best hitters to ever play the game. Hideki Matsui is a modern-day Paul Bunyon who strikes fear in opposing pitchers by putting up some of the game's most awesome power numbers. And rookie sensation Kosuke Fukudome is already being hailed as the savior who will lead the Cubs to their first World Series title in 100 years.
Back when I was a young child playing Little League and dreaming of being the starting shortstop for the NY Mets, there were NO Asian players in Major League Baseball. Although the legendary Masanori Murakami briefly pitched for the San Francisco Giants in 1964-1965, it wasn't until Chan Ho Park made his debut with the Dodgers thirty years later that we saw another MLB player of Asian descent. 
It makes me extremely proud to look around the clubhouses of Major League Baseball now and see such a wide array of Asians playing virtually every position. I was thinking about this recently and I began wondering whether there were actually now enough Asian baseball players in MLB for me to draft an All-Asian Fantasy Baseball team. And how would that team stack up against the rest of baseball?
Let's take a look:
CF Ichiro Suzuki (Seattle Mariners)
2B Tad Iguchi (Chicago White Sox)
RF Kosuke Fukudome (Chicago Cubs)
LF Jideki Matsui (NY Yankees)
3B Akinori Iwamura (Tampa Bay Devilrays)
C Kenji Johjima (Seattl Mariners)
SS Chin-Lung Hu (Los Angeles Dodgers)
1B Kaz Matsui (Houston Astros)
DH Johnny Damon (NY Yankees)

SP Daisuke Matsuzaka (Boston Red Sox)
SP Chien-Ming Wang (NY Yankees)
SP Hiroki Kuroda (Los Angeles Dodgers)
SP Akinori Otsuka (Texas Rangers)
SP Kei Igawa (NY Yankees)

RP Hideki Okajima (Boston Red Sox)
RP Chan Ho Park (Los Angeles Dodgers)
RP Cha Seung Baek (Seattle Mariners)
RP Takashi Saito (Los Angeles Dodgers)

Few notes: 
(1) I put Kaz Matsui at 1st base because there currently no Asian 1st basemen in MLB. I figured he was well-suited because of his slick glove. He's lost some arm strength over the years and Chin-Lung Hu is more of a natural shortstop. 
(2) Yes, Johnny Damon is half-Asian. His mother is Thai. You didn't know that?
So how does my All-Asian Fantasy Team measure up?
Actually, I think we look pretty damn good. We've got a nice blend of veteran leadership and young players. We've got a good mix of guys who can get on base and guys who can hit for power. Our defense is solid but nothing spectacular. Ichiro is probably the sole Golden Glover. 
Our pitching staff is led by D-Mat and Chien-Ming Wang. I'll put those two pitchers up against any 1-2 combo in baseball. Kuroda was a freaking stud in Japan and could have a monster year for the Dodgers this year. Otsuka and Igawa should be more than serviceable filling out the back end of the rotation. 
As for the bullpen, it might be a little weak. Saito is a decent enough closer. Probably better than most others in MLB right now. Unfortunately, I'm not sure how much we'll get out of Okajima, Park, and Baek. The plus side is that our starting pitchers tend to eat up a lot of innings so a top-notch bullpen might not be as important. 
You know what? This is a pretty damn good team. I'll bet they could win 80-90 games. Put them in the National League and they might end up making it to the World Series. How great would that be?


Anonymous said...

Dang...Pirates just had and released their first Asian player in Masumi Kuwata and just bought out Byung-Hyun Kim.

Shit, before I could get a Kuwata jersey cut.

illahee said...

looks pretty damn good.

thisislarry said...

Very cool, quintessentially American, and just in time for little league!

Anonymous said...

Nomo played for the Dodgers long before Chan Ho Park even showed up.

Unknown said...

Before Chan-Ho and Nomo, there was Lenn Sakata of the Baltimore Orioles.

When I was growing up in the suburbs of Baltimore, MD in the 80's, there was a guy by the name of Lenn Sakata: # 12, shortstop/utility guy playing for the Orioles.

The Orioles would become World Series Champions in 1983 and a 2nd year player by the name of Cal Ripken, Jr (perhaps you've heard of him) was just getting started. He would go on and play in "a record 2,632 straight games spanning sixteen seasons, from May 30, 1982 to September 20, 1998. He played his 2131st consecutive game on September 6, 1995, against the California Angels, breaking the 56-year-old record set by the "Iron Horse" Lou Gehrig.",_Jr.

That’s 16 years playing in a row at the second toughest position in baseball, just behind catcher in my opinion, and 500 games or about 3 more years than Lou Gehrig.

I say all of this because the starter for a portion of 1982 at shortstop just prior to Cal Ripken was none other than Lenn Sakata, a Hawaiian born Japanese-American baseball player.

Cal played third base as a rookie call-up in 1981 and 1982, but switched to shortstop in 1983.

I know they now suck, but the Orioles were actually pretty good having been Champions in 1966, 1970, 1983. They were in the World Series in those years and in 1969, 1971, 1979. For 20 years they were dominant.

Further, in 1971 (year of my birth, incidentally) "all four start[ing pitchers] were twenty game winners - Dave McNally won twenty-one, Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar and Pat Dobson each won twenty". Think about that for a moment.

Getting back to Lenn, he played for 10 years:

·Milwaukee Brewers 1977-1979

·Baltimore Orioles 1980-1985

·Oakland Athletics 1986

·New York Yankees 1987

In 1983, he hit .254 in 66 games with 7 doubles, 3 HRs, and 12 rbi's. But one homerun that year was especially memorable.

I've got to admit, being a 12 year old in 1983, it was a love/hate situation with Lenn and I.

I loved the fact that he was an Asian playing in the majors, but hated that he was not very good and looked kind of nerdy.

Sorry for the long email, but he has another interesting entry in the history of baseball.

On August 24, 1983, as the team was making it's run towards the world series, Lenn was playing catcher in the 10th inning against the Toronto Blue Jays in a tight ball game, because the team ran out of catchers due to substitutions.

When an Orioles' pitcher by the name of Tippy Martinez, picked off 3 consecutive base runners on first base all in one inning.

Apparently, the base runners were eager to run and steal a base on Sakata because he was filling in as the emergency catcher.

But get this, he then comes to the plate and hits a game winning 3 run homerun the very next inning to win the game, helping them in a critical game towards the world series!

The link below provides more detail and a pic of Lenn:

Man, that was 25 years ago!

-Rice daddy of 3 in DC

Mr. Maestro said...

I swear I'd be playing now if I had an Asian role model in outfield like Ichiro. As a West Coast Padre fan, Aki Otsuka belongs in the pen setting up, and Kaz should play 2nd with Godzilla at 1st (Tad is a Padre now).

The day when we've had made it is when you can come up with an Asian American Major League team besides the occasional Benny Agbayani and Sakata (I always kept an 82 Topps Len Sakata card growing up.) I think Angels catching prospect Hank "Hyun Choi" Conger is the best hope and must be the first Asian American first round draft pick.

Anonymous said...

Where's the love for the Oakland Atheletics' catcher, Kurt Suzuki? :)

Anonymous said...

Hey, what about Benny Agbayani? You can use him for one year and let him go.

Nice list man! GO CUBS!

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...


how sad

Anonymous said...

holy cow

oaktownaa said...

I agree with Anonymous - folks should know about the Oakland A's starting catcher, Kurt Suzuki, a JA from Hawaii. He knocked in the winning run for CSU Fullerton to win the College World Series a few years ago and he came up to the A's last year. There was a very nice article in Friday's SF Chronicle. He's taken a strong leadership role for the surprising first place A's and the pitchers have a lot of faith in him. You can see it here:

Oaktown daddy

colette said...

I totally agree about looking into Kurt Suzuki. The list of Asian players is made of international players, whereas Kurt is one of few Asian American ballplayers to make it to MLB. Go A's!