Major League Baseball’s World Series will kick off Wednesday morning Japan time at the Kauffman Stadium in Missouri, with Norichika Aoki of the Kansas City Royals slated to become the 12th Japanese player to appear in the Fall Classic. Japan Real Time takes a look at past Japanese players who have reached baseball’s biggest stage.
Hideki Irabu (New York Yankees)
The first Japanese player to win a World Series championship ring was Hideki Irabu, who was with the New York Yankees in 1998 and 1999 but didn’t pitch during the series. Irabu joined the Montreal Expos in 2000 and spent his final year in MLB with the Texas Rangers in 2002.
He returned to Japan and continued his career with the Hanshin Tigers and independent league teams. Irabu died in 2011 in an apparent suicide.
Tsuyoshi Shinjo (San Francisco Giants)
The first Japanese player to appear in a World Series game was San Francisco Giants outfielder Tsuyoshi Shinjo. He had one hit in three at-bats as the designated hitter in Game 1 in 2002. The team lost the series to the Anaheim Angels in seven games. Shinjo returned to Japan in 2004 to play for the Nippon Ham Fighters, where he was a teammate of current Texas Rangers ace Yu Darvish. Shinjo retired from baseball after the 2006 season and now lives in Indonesia where he studies airbrush painting, according to hiswebsite.
Hideki Matsui (New York Yankees)
New York Yankees outfielder Hideki Matsui made his World Series debut in 2003, the year he joined the team from Japan. The Yankees lost the series to the Florida Marlins in six games. Matsui returned to the Fall Classic in 2009, and contributed to the team’s win over the Philadelphia Phillies as the designated hitter. He had six RBIs in the final game and was named most valuable player. Matsui went on to play for the Angels, the Oakland A’s and the Tampa Bay Rays before retiring after the 2012 season.
So Taguchi (St. Louis Cardinals)
In 2004, So Taguchi, then with the St. Louis Cardinals, made his first appearance in the World Series against the Boston Red Sox. The Sox swept the series and became the world champions for the first time since 1918. The Cards and Taguchi returned to the World Series in 2006 and beat the Detroit Tigers in five games. Taguchi also became a world champion in 2008 with the Philadelphia Phillies. He is scheduled to appear as a TV commentator in Japan for Game 2 of this year’s World Series.
Tadahito Iguchi (Chicago White Sox)
Tadahito Iguchi won the World Series in 2005 during his first year with the Chicago White Sox. He was also a member of the Philadelphia Phillies along with So Taguchi, when the team won the 2008 title. Iguchi returned to Japan following that season and joined the Chiba Lotte Marines and still plays for the team.
Daisuke Matsuzaka & Hideki Okajima (Boston Red Sox)
The Boston Red Sox swept the 2007 World Series against the Colorado Rockies, with pitchers Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima playing key roles. Following aces Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling, Matsuzaka started Game 3 and allowed two earned runs in 5.1 innings to earn the win. It was the first World Series win by a Japanese pitcher. Matsuzaka played for the New York Mets this season, and went 3-3 with an ERA of 3.89. Okajima is now pitching for the Softbank Hawks, which will play the Japan Series this year beginning Saturday.
Kazuo Matsui (Colorado Rockies)
Kazuo Matsui played for the Rockies in 2007 although his team lost to the Red Sox. While Matsui ended his MLB career without a World Series ring, in 2013 he won the Japan Series as captain of the Tohoku Rakuten Eagles. New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka was the ace of the team that year.
Akinori Iwamura (Tampa Bay Rays)
Akinori Iwamura played as an infielder for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008 when the team made its first and only appearance thus far in the World Series. They lost to the Phillies in five games. Iwamura went on to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Oakland A’s, but returned to Japan in 2011. He played for the Yakult Swallows this year but was released from the team on Oct. 1.
Koji Uehara & Junichi Tazawa (Boston Red Sox)
Following his MVP performance during the American League Championship Series in 2013, closer Koji Uehara remained dominant against the Cardinals at the World Series. He pitched 4.2 innings, allowing two hits and earning two saves. Junichi Tazawa also pitched in key situations out of the bullpen during the series. It was the third World Series win for the Red Sox in a decade.