Thursday, April 20, 2006

April 20th, 1965

Masato Yoshii Born

Masato Yoshii first came to America has a member of the New York Mets in 1998, after a number of seasons with the Yakult Swallows, going 13-6 with a 2.99 ERA his final season with the team. Yoshii turned down a number of big-money offers from Japanese teams (supposedly after being convinced to do so by Hideo Nomo) and instead signed a contract with the Mets for a base salary for $200,000 with a series of bonuses. Yoshii would pitch well in '98 (all said his bonuses raised the salary to over a million) and although he was less effective in 1999, Yoshii was beginning a run during which his ERA+ never went above 101 or fell below 97.

That would last until his left the Majors after the 2002 season, finishing with an underwhelming 32-47 record, but a decent 4.62 ERA, just better than the league and park average of 4.68 for his career. Yoshii returned to Japan. Although he struggled in his early return, he did go 6-5 with a 4.03 ERA last year for the Orix Buffalos, an impressive feat at age forty.

On a less biographical note, I've always liked Yoshii, based on a couple of silly incidents. For one, Yoshii achieved minor celebrity in New York on account of his stirring renditions of "Happy Birthday" in Japanese each time a Met player celebrated a birthday in the clubhouse. There's that, but my all-time favorite Yoshii story concerns his sense of humor. Asked in late 1999 what he would do if Bobby Valentine opted not to put him on the playoff roster. Yoshii replied--this is a paraphrase--that he would sit in the bleachers, drink beer and yell "Put in Yoshii!" whenever a Mets' pitcher gave up a hit.

Yoshii, perhaps not surprisingly, made the playoff roster.

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