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[NPB NOTEBOOK] NPB Supporting Noto Peninsula Earthquake Relief Efforts

NPB is contributing 100 million yen to help relief efforts in Ishikawa Prefecture. Also, NPB will stage an All-Star Game in neighboring Toyama in 2026.

NPB has stepped up to the plate following the powerful earthquake that hit Japan's Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture and surrounding areas on New Year's Day. 

The M7.6 earthquake rocked the Sea of Japan coastal areas on January 1, leaving more than 230 people dead. Thousands more remain displaced.

In an effort to help out, Nippon Professional Baseball and its 12 teams announced on January 16 that they are contributing ¥100 million JPY (about $680,000 USD) in disaster relief.

Speaking at a meeting attended by NPB's 12 managers on the same day in Tokyo, Hanshin Tigers skipper Akinobu Okada said Japanese pro baseball is unified to support relief efforts.

"The front offices and players have come together, and every team wants to cooperate," Okada was quoted as saying by Kyodo News.

Hanshin Tigers manager Akinobu Okada (left) and Orix Buffaloes manager Satoshi Nakajima attend an NPB managers meeting on January 16 at a Tokyo hotel. (ⒸSANKEI)

NPB also recently announced that an All-Star Game in 2026 will be held at Alpen Stadium in Toyama Prefecture to further support reconstruction in the area.

Toyama neighbors Ishikawa Prefecture where most of the damage occurred.

Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles pitcher Masahiro Tanaka donated 100 mattresses to Ishikawa Prefecture to help out victims of the Noto Peninsula quake. 

As a member of the Sendai-based Rakuten Eagles, Tanaka has seen first-hand the devastation that can result from such a massive quake. Sendai and many parts of Miyagi Prefecture were hit hard by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

MLB players Shohei Ohtani and Yu Darvish also made generous contributions to relief efforts.

Kuroda Honored by Dodgers

The Los Angeles Dodgers have congratulated former pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, who was recently announced as an inductee into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame.

"Congratulations Hiroki Kuroda on your induction into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame," the club posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

"Kuroda posted a 3.45 ERA and made 114 starts in four seasons with the Dodgers…Kuroda garnered tremendous respect in all corners of the Dodgers clubhouse."

He began his career with the Hiroshima Carp and won a total of 203 games in a career split between Japan and MLB from 1997 to 2016.

The right-hander played for the Dodgers from 2008 to 2011, winning a total of 41 games.

On August 30, 2010, while playing for the Dodgers, Kuroda took a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the visiting Philadelphia Phillies. But with one out, Shane Victorino broke up his bid for the no-no with a line drive single to right field.

The Dodgers have always had close relations with Japan baseball since Hideo Nomo played for the National League team back in the 1990s. Since then other Japanese players have worn Dodger blue including Kazuhisa Ishii, Darvish and now, of course, Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto.


Trevor Bauer
Trevor Bauer (ⒸSANKEI)

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BayStars Moving on From Bauer

The Yokohama DeNA BayStars are moving on from troubled former MLB pitcher Trevor Bauer.

For the 2024 season, the BayStars have signed former Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Andre Jackson and ex-Toronto Blue Jays, Chicago Cubs and New York Mets pitcher Anthony Kay.

Neither Kay nor Jackson have been able to establish themselves in MLB but the hope for Yokohama is they can contribute in NPB and fill some of the void in Bauer's absence.

Bauer went 10-4 for the BayStars in 2023 with 130 strikeouts and a solid 2.76 ERA before getting injured in the second half of the season.

According to several media outlets, Bauer recently posted an Instagram comment supporting the early release of a US Navy officer in Japan whose negligent driving killed two Japanese citizens in 2021.

A Japanese tweet denouncing Bauer went viral with over 850,000 views.

Can one expect Bauer to be aware of the long history of US servicemen getting into trouble in Japan? Not really. But why even mention something like this? It's not as though he was a close personal friend of the individual.

The insensitivity of this guy is mind boggling. As one person on X commented: "Imagine burning up all the goodwill for you in a country that actually wants you around."

Bauer Seeking a New Job in MLB

Bauer's troubles in MLB are well-documented and there is no need to go into them again here. He came to Japan looking for a second chance which he got. But it now seems he's burned his bridges here.

Meanwhile, the 33-year-old Bauer recently went on Fox News. The free-agent right-hander and former NL Cy Young winner is looking to make a return to Major League Baseball and said his agents have been in contact with MLB teams. 

Does any team really want to deal with the PR firestorm that will come their way if they sign Bauer?

I would guess not. 

Former Texas Rangers player Rougned Odor swings his bat in an October 2016 game. (ⒸSANKEI)

Giants Sign Rough Guy

The Yomiuri Giants have signed former major leaguer Rougned Odor. He will wear uniform number 23.

Yomiuri announced the signing on Monday, January 22.

Odor, a native of Venezuela who can play both the infield and outfield, is perhaps best known as the player who started an on-field brawl in May of 2016 when he punched Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays in the face after Bautista slid hard into second base in a game against the Texas Rangers.

There was speculation the showdown between the two stemmed from the 2015 American League Division Series between the Blue Jays and the Rangers.

It was in that series that Bautista flipped his bat emphatically after hitting a go-ahead home run.

Odor, who turns 30 on February 3, received an eight-game suspension from MLB for his part in the brawl. After an appeal it was reduced to seven games. He was thereafter persona-non-grata in Toronto and was greeted with a healthy round of boos every time he came to the plate.

Over 10 seasons in MLB, most recently with the San Diego Padres, Odor has a .230 batting average with 930 hits and 178 homers in 1,154 games. 

If the Giants are looking for some grit, they may have found it. But Odor will have to keep his pugnacious nature in check in Japan where any sort of rough stuff is frowned upon.

Tokyo Yakult Swallows slugger Munetaka Murakami in a file photo from the 2023 NPB season. (ⒸSANKEI)

Forecasting the Next Wave of NPB Players to MLB

It was a busy off-season for former NPB players signing with MLB teams. Shota Imanaga signed with the Chicago Cubs. In addition, Yamamoto and Ohtani joined the Dodgers while Yuki Matsui left Japan to play for the Padres. 

So who will be next to go? 

It's hard to predict but some are trying. CBS Sports' RJ Anderson recently highlighted three young Japanese stars who could be the next to follow their countrymen to the majors.

According to the sports division of US television network CBS, Chiba Lotte Marines right-hander Roki Sasaki, Tokyo Yakult Swallows slugger Munetaka Murakami and Orix Buffaloes right-hander Shunpeita Yamashita are all coveted by major league teams.

Murakami, 23, is entering the second year of his current three-year contract. He won the Central League Triple Crown in 2022 and slowed down a bit in 2023 with a .256 batting average, 31 homers and 84 RBIs.

It would be interesting to see how Murakami would fare in the majors. He is a great hitter but is sometimes prone to prolonged slumps.

Chiba Lotte Marines starter Roki Sasaki pitches against the Hokkaido Nipponham Fighters on April 6, 2023, at Zozo Marine Stadium. (ⒸSANKEI)

Sasaki's Durability Remains a Concern

In April of 2022 Sasaki gained worldwide recognition when he struck out a record-trying 19 batters as part of NPB's first perfect game in 28 years. Just one week later in his next start, he threw eight perfect innings and the legend was born.

The 22-year-old Sasaki reportedly asked the Marines to post him ahead of last year's December 15 deadline, only to be declined.

His only drawback is that he has struggled with injuries.

"Sasaki does need to improve his durability," Anderson wrote in the online article. "He was limited to 91 innings [this past season] by an oblique injury, and to date he's cleared the century mark just once. Otherwise, Sasaki can rightly claim to be one of the planet's most talented pitchers."

Orix Buffaloes starter Shunpeita Yamashita (ⒸSANKEI)

Yamashita is the lesser known of the three. The 2023 Pacific League Rookie of the Year has a mid-90s mph fastball. He threw a career-high 95 innings last season while striking out 26.4% of batters he faced while walking less than 8% of them.

"Yamashita resembles an MLB starter, he's 6-foot-2 and strong," CBS Sports noted.

Author: Jim Armstrong

The author is a longtime journalist who has covered sports in Japan for over 25 years. You can find his articles on SportsLook.


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