After Kosuke Fukudome signed a 4-year, $48 million contract with the Cubs in Dec. of 2007 he officially became the first Japanese born player to suit up for the club on March 31, 2008.
So Taguchi became the Cubs’ second Japanese player, albeit for a very brief stint in 2009. He played in all of 6-games making 12 plate- appearances.
If the Cubs have its way this offseason Kyuji Fujikawa, a prized free-agent reliever, will be just the third Japanese player to appear with Chicago.
That’s surprising to me considering the Cubs play in a world-class city with a dynamic Japanese community. You would think such an asset would be a lucrative selling point for the Cubs to lure Japanese players making the transition to the major leagues–as was the case with Fukudome.
Masanori Murakami was the first-ever Japanese born ballplayer to appear in the major leagues. He pitched two seasons with the Giants in 1964-65. Even then Chicago had already become a popular destination for Japanese Americans relocating following World War II.
Granted major league teams waited another 30 years before regularly committing to Japanese players (think Hideo Nomo 1995), it still took the Cubs another decade-plus before signing Fukudome.
That seems like a major shortcoming on the Cubs’ part given the luxury of being able to provide Japanese players a little slice of home in addition to the great city of Chicago itself.
Of course it should always remain in the Cubs’ best interest to target available players who offer the most value to the organization regardless of origin or nationality.
But the perceived advantage the Cubs have over other major league cities lacking a vibrant Japanese community is something I hope the club leverages more while courting Japanese players–if the new regime hasn’t done so already.
Not only would signing Kyuji Fujikawa be a major coup for the Cubs, but also a good starting point for the organization in landing star Japanese players for many more years to come.