Did You Know? – Red Sox Players in Japan

As the Boston Red Sox head to Japan to play the first two games of its 2008 regular season schedule in Tokyo against the Oakland Athletics, it is interesting to note that, as well as having had Japanese players like Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima play for Boston, there have been several non-Japanese players with past Red Sox teams that have also logged time with a Far East baseball club.. Perhaps the most well-known of these players is former outfielder and recent Red Sox Hall of Fame inductee Mike Greenwell, who signed on to play with the Hanshin Tigers in 1997 after twelve seasons with Boston. However, “the Gator” unexpectedly left the team during spring training while claiming an undiagnosed back injury, abruptly flew back to the United States, then returned to Japan and rejoined the team in late April. He finally played his first Japanese professional game in early May but, after fracturing his foot with a foul tip, announced his official retirement from baseball after batting .231 in just seven games with the club.[1]

Outfielder Reggie Smith was another former Red Sox great who later played in Japan, though his move to Japan came ten years after he departed Boston. After playing his final season in the majors with the San Francisco Giants in 1982, Smith was lured to Japan to play for the Yomiuri Giants; however, his personality and demeanor immediately clashed with the expectations of the Japanese fans and the media with regards to the norm for a baseball player. After injuring his knee early in the 1983 season, he was dubbed “Million-Dollar Bench-Warmer” by the Japanese media as he sat for two months nursing the injury; he also earned another less-honorable nickname, the “Giant Human Fan,” for striking out too often. Despite this, in just 263 at-bats, he managed a batting average of .285 with 28 home runs, a .409 on-base percentage, and a .609 slugging percentage.[2]

One other more-recent Boston player who donned spikes in the Land of the Rising Sun was Gabe Kapler who, lured by a lucrative contract offer, departed the Red Sox a month after the team won the World Series in 2004 and joined the Yomiuri club. However, after batting just .153 (17-for-111) with three home runs and six RBI in 38 games with the Giants, the team put the veteran outfielder on waivers and Kapler returned to the Red Sox in June of 2005. In addition, other non-Japanese players who have worn both a Boston uniform as well as one for a Japanese club include: John Wasdin, who played for the Red Sox between 1997 and 2000, then signed for one season with Yomiuri in 2002; Larry Parrish, who played a half-season with the Sox in 1988, then played a season each with the Yakult Swallows (1989) and Hanshin (1990); Kip Gross, who played five seasons in Japan for the Nippon Ham Fighters (1994-1998), then returned to the United States to play for Boston for one season (1999); and Benny Agbayani, who also played 13 games for Boston in 2002 and has played the last four seasons for the Chiba Lotte Marines (2004-2007).

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