Phenom pitcher who stayed in Japan doesn’t stay on mound

From Ken Belson at the New York Times on July 10, 2013:

The showdown in June was brief and had little influence on the game, but it spoke volumes about one of the biggest stars to emerge in Japanese baseball in years.

Shohei Otani of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters pinch-hit in the fourth inning against the Hanshin Tigers. The crowd of 22,000 fans at the Sapporo Dome buzzed — Otani is a flame-throwing pitcher who also hits well enough to play right field when not on the mound.


The most sought amateur player in Japan last year, he made waves when he declared that he wanted to become the first Japanese player to jump directly from high school to the major leagues. The Dodgers, the Red Sox and other teams scouted him.

Otani’s intention to leave scared away every team in Japan except the Fighters, who drafted him in the first round and persuaded him to start his career in Japan. They had a record to run on: nine years ago, the Fighters drafted Yu Darvish out of high school. He became an ace and helped the Fighters win several pennants before he signed a lucrative deal with the Texas Rangers.

To the relief of Nippon Professional Baseball, which has struggled to attract young fans, Otani stayed in Japan. He was rewarded with a signing bonus of 100 million yen, or $1 million; the maximum rookie salary, 15 million yen ($150,000); and, for good measure, Darvish’s old number, 11.

As a sweetener, he was allowed to pitch and play another position, a rare concession in a sport driven increasingly by specialization.

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Originally published: July 11, 2013. Last Updated: July 11, 2013.