Major League Baseball is a global sport diversified with players from different backgrounds and nationalities. As MLB teams have increasingly drawn talent from the international market, Japan has made a contribution with some of the most talented Japanese players. Throughout Major League Baseball history there has been over 40 Japanese-born players that have played on the Major League level. Masanori Murakami was the first Japanese player to play in Major League Baseball. He was 20 years old when he was promoted to the San Francisco Giants as a reliever on September 1, 1964. His best pitch was a sharp screwball, which he learned in the majors, and he also threw a good changeup and curve. He was a valuable reliever, being a left-hander throwing from the sidearm. His total record in two years in the majors was 5–1, 9 saves, with a 3.43 ERA in 54 games. For thirty years, Murakami was the only Japanese player to appear in an MLB game and he ultimately paved the way for future Japanese players.
Hideki Matsui has accomplished various honors for his ability and outstanding play on the field and is one of the most popular Japanese players along with Ichiro Suzuki that has played Major League Baseball.
When Matsui connected for a home run on July 20, 2011 against Detroit, he became the first slugger to hit a combined 500 home runs in both Japan and the U.S. The veteran hit 332 home runs during his playing days in Japan, and 169 home runs in the majors. As we know there are only 25 Major Leaguers that have reached the 500 home run plateau. However, in Japan there are only eight players who have amassed 500 home runs during their Japanese league careers. This list is headed by the greatest Japanese baseball player of all-time, Sadaharu Oh. He compiled a .301 lifetime average while setting records for home runs (868) and RBIs 1,967 and winning two consecutive triple crowns in 1973 and 1974. In 22 seasons, from 1959-80, he was a nine-time Most Valuable Player. Oh also holds the Japanese single-season home run record of 55 in 1964.
Matsui’s Japan highlights:
He wore uniform number 55 to honor his Japan idol – Sadaharu Oh. 55 was the single-season home run record held by Sadaharu Oh.
A three-time MVP in the Japanese Central League (1996, 2000, and 2002), Matsui led his team into four Japan Series and winning three titles (1994, 2000 and 2002).
He also made nine consecutive all-star games and led the league in home runs and RBIs three times (1998, 2000, and 2002).
His single season mark for home runs was 50 in 2002, his final season in Japan. In the ten seasons he played in Japan, Matsui totaled 1268 games played, 4572 AB, 1390 hits, 901 runs, 332 home runs, 889 RBIs, a .304 batting average, and a .582 slugging percentage. His streak of 1,250 consecutive games played was the second longest in Japan.
Highlights with Yankees:
In Matsui's first game at Yankee Stadium, the 2003 Yankee home opener, he became the first Yankee to hit a grand slam in his first game at Yankee Stadium.
On May 6, 2007, Matsui recorded his 2,000th hit in combined hits in Japan and the United States during a game vs. the Mariners, which earned him a place in Japan's Golden Players Club, reserved for players who have hit 2000 hits, 200 wins or 250 saves professionally.
On August 5, 2007, Matsui became the first Japanese player in MLB history to hit 100 home runs.
He became the first Yankee to drive in seven runs in a game at Fenway since Lou Gehrig in 1930.
In the 2009 World Series, Matsui helped the Yankees defeat the Phillies by hitting .615 (8 for 13) with 3 home runs and 8 RBI, including tying Bobby Richardson's single-game World Series record (Game Three of the 1960 World Series) with six RBIs in Game 6.
He became the first Japanese-born player to win the World Series MVP award, he also became the third player in Major League history to bat .500 or above and hit 3 home runs in the same World Series, joining only Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.