Hallo there, and welcome to the eighteenth installment of (Professional) Baseballers of Lesser Note. In which we spotlight some of the distinguished gentlemen who have partaken in the professional gentleman's sport of baseball throughout the various eras encompassing the aforementioned sport.
This week we look at Masato Yoshii
What'd He Do?
5 seasons. 32-47 record. 757 IP, 447 Ks
With over ten years in Japanese pro ball, Yoshii was part of the 90's boom of imported players that (mostly) began with Hideo Nomo and Nomo-Mania in 1995. Nomo had great success and it was a huge validation for the Japanese leagues. So naturally other teams became more serious in scouting Japan and finding their own version of Nomo. The NY Yankees messed with Hideki Irabu, so the cross-town Mets fired back with... Masato Yoshii. Yoshii's Japanese career was lengthy, even though his only real accolade was the 1988 "Outstanding Reliever Award".
Once in the US, Yoshii was sort of a #3 or #4 starter, with his first two years being his best. He went 6-8 for the Mets in 1998, then followed it up with an improved 1999 by going 12-8. He pitched a complete game in each of those seasons, as that was still something of a rarity in the hitter-friendly 90's. He even received the "Good Guy Award" from the stingy NY media in 1999.
Before the 2000 season, he was traded to the mess known as Buddy Bell's Rockies. And yes, that included Coors Field, where marginal pitchers go to die (see: Bill Swift, Greg Harris, Bruce Hurst, Rolondo Arrojo, etc). At the time, the Rockies really had no long-term plan and seemed to be slapping whatever available MLB players they could find in an attempt to field a team. So, of course it spelled doom for Masato Yoshii, as he went 6-15 with a 5.89 ERA. All of those were starts, so he was essentially an "innings eater".
His lone highlight of that season was in a game against the Pirates. Yoshii hit what was known as a "home run" at Coors Field. The Pirates CF made a leap, but missed and the ball sailed over the wall. Yoshii trotted down to first...and wasn't sure what to do next. He seemed to be unaware of the umpires' signals and it took him awhile to realize that, yes, you can run to ALL the bases when you hit a home run. To be fair, the umpires didn't clearly signal the homer and combined with the leap at the wall, there was some confusion. Even the crowd was unsure what had just happened. I mean, a PITCHER just hit one out? Even at Coors Field, that's rare.
Yoshii went to training camp with the Rockies in 2001, but was released in the week before Opening Day. The black hole known as the Montreal Expos picked him up about two weeks later and he spent two more years up there. He shuttled between the rotation and bullpen, accumulating an 8-16 record with a 4.42 ERA. Towards the end of the year, he developed shoulder problems that required surgery (in his non-throwing shoulder, I believe), which essentially ended his MLB career.
Yoshii went back to Japan and pitched from 2003 until 2007. He's still kicking around, as he's currently the pitching coach for the Nippon Ham Fighters. Yoshii was the first Japan-to-MLB player to return home and become a coach. His "foot in the door" entry into coaching was helped by Bobby Valentine-- his former Mets manager who was now working in the Japanese leagues. A few years ago, Yoshii's name was tossed around as a possible MLB coach, but that has yet to happen.
Obviously, Yoshii wasn't another Nomo. Yet he never really projected to be one. His career was nonetheless noteworthy because it proved that "regular" Japanese pitchers could find a home in MLB, if not outright "success".
Moderator: Mad Dog
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