SweetSpot: Ichiro

Young Japanese pitcher a hot property

October, 15, 2009
10/15/09
5:15
PM ET
Are the Red Sox trying to corner the market on Japanese pitchers? Seems like maybe they are:
    The Boston Red Sox are among several major league teams lining up to woo Japanese high school pitcher Yusei Kikuchi.The 18-year-old lefthander, who throws a fastball that has been clocked as high as 96 mph, is the latest Japanese amateur pitcher to draw interest from major leagues teams.

    --snip--

    The Red Sox drew criticism in Japan last year when they signed amateur pitcher Junichi Tazawa. He was passed over by Japan's professional teams in last year's amateur draft after he said he wanted to play in the United States.

    Boston has a strong scouting network in Japan and already has four Japanese pitchers on its major league roster: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideki Okajima, Takashi Saito, and Tazawa.

    Japanese teams are not allowed to make offers to amateurs before the draft. No rule prevents American teams from pursuing them, although Japanese baseball officials believe there is a 'gentlemen's agreement' making amateurs off limits.

There was also a "gentleman's agreement" -- and yes, I understand how ironic that term was, in context -- in the 1940s when it came to signing black baseball players. I don't mean to conflate that situation with this one, because of course the moral issues are substantially dissimilar. But while Branch Rickey might have had the Lord in his heart when he signed Jackie Robinson, he also had a National League pennant in his mind.

The gentleman's agreement in the 1940s lasted until someone with a bit of courage and intelligence figured he could get away with breaking it. The modern gentleman's agreement regarding Japanese players lasted until someone with a bit of money and intelligence figured the right Japanese players might help him beat the Yankees.

Once players like Hideo Nomo and Ichiro Suzuki proved that Japanese players could not just play, but star in the majors, it was just a matter of time until ultra-competitive franchises began to ignore any "agreement" that might keep them from getting the players they want.

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