A unique piece of original art, featuring Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners.
Ali. Michael. “The Babe.” Pelé. There are few superstar athletes whose unique fame and excellence make them recognizable by a single name. Ichiro belongs in this select group.
Ichiro Suzuki racked up so many accolades over nine seasons in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball and 19 seasons in Major League baseball that if you were to divide his career into two separate players – one in NPB and another in MLB – both would be worthy of induction into his country’s baseball hall of fame.
When you view his career in its entirety, with 17 All-Star Games, 17 Gold Gloves, four MVPs, nine batting titles, and the MLB single-season record for hits, he is undoubtedly one of the best to ever play the game.
A unique piece of original art, featuring Daisuke Matsuzaka of the Boston Red Sox.
Where shall we start with Matsuzaka? How about in high school, when he first earned national attention as the ace of Yokohama High School, a national powerhouse? That attention became superstardom when he etched himself into Japanese baseball lore with a 17 inning, 250 pitch performance in the quarterfinals of the 1998 Koshien tournament, and then threw a no-hitter to win the championship game.
After being drafted by the Seibu Lions, Matsuzaka didn’t miss a beat: he won the Pacific League Rookie of the year in 1999 as an 18-year-old. From 1999-2006, he collected enough accolades to cement him as Japan’s premier pitcher, including:
- Pacific League Rookie of the Year
- 3× NPB win leader
- 4× NPB strikeout leader
- 2× NPB ERA leader
- Eiji Sawamura Award
- 3× NPB Best Nine Award
- 7× Mitsui Golden Glove Award
- 6× All-Star
- 2004 Japan Series champion
Then, in 2007, it was off to Boston after the Red Sox paid the Lions an astonishing $51MM just for the right to sign Matsuzaka and then inked the pitcher to a six-year, $52MM contract. While his MLB debut season had its up and downs, he combined with Hideki Okajima to form a 1-2 Japanese pitching combo that was vital to the Red Sox’s World Series championship run. He was the first Japanese pitcher to start and win a World Series game and set a Red Sox rookie record for strikeouts.
After a strong first two years in Boston “Dice-K” (as he became known to American fans), struggled to stay healthy. He pitched six years in Boston and two in New York with the Mets before returning to Japan with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, winning another Japan Series title in 2017. In 2018, he showed that there was still something left in the tank, as the elder statesman won the Comeback Player of the Year award.
Teenage heroics, NPB dominance, and a late-career run as the wise veteran made Matsuzaka a legend in Japan. But not to be overlooked are his efforts on the Samurai Japan national team, earning MVP en route to the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classic titles.
A unique piece of original art, featuring all-time NPB and Yankees legend Hideki Matsui, a.k.a. Godzilla, in the orange-and-black of the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants.
In 10 seasons with the Yomiuri Giants, Matsui was Japan’s biggest star. He was NPB’s most feared power hitter from the get-go, swatting 11 home runs in just 57 games as a 19-year-old rookie and then tallying 311 more over the next nine seasons. He was 8x “Best Nine,” 9x an All-Star, a 3x MVP, and led the Giants to Japan Series championships in 1994, 2000, and 2002, winning the Series MVP in 2000. His NPB achievements were immortalized with his induction in the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 2018.
After moving to MLB from the Giants in 2003, he more than earned his pinstripes. He was twice an All-Star, twice earned MVP votes, and was the MVP of the 2009 World Series, leading the Yankees to a title over the Philadelphia Phillies. He contributed as a dependable veteran for the Angels, A’s, and Rays before retiring in 2013. His ten years in MLB showed Americans that Japanese players can be power hitters too, and he will go down in history as a beloved hero in two countries. We ranked him as the third-best Japanese import in MLB history.
A unique piece of original art, featuring all-time legend Hiromitsu Ochiai, arguably the greatest pure hitter in NPB history. With the Lotte Orions, Ochiai won three (!) “Triple Crowns” for leading the Pacific League in batting average, home runs, and RBI, and twice was the league’s MVP. The third baseman also starred for the Chunichi Dragons, Yomiuri Giants, and Nippon-Ham Fighters. As a manager, he guided the Chunichi Dragons to the 2007 Japan Series Title. Ochiai was inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011.
A unique piece of original art, featuring Koji Uehara of the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants.
Ever since being picked by the Yomiuri Giants with the first pick of the 1998 draft, Uehara was a sensation, performing well consistently during the regular season and stepping up to the moment in the biggest games in NPB, MLB, and the World Baseball Classic.
His NPB resume is enough to make him one of the most decorated pitchers in history:
- 9× All-Star (1999–2005, 2007, 2018)
- 2× Japan Series champion (2000, 2002)
- 2× Eiji Sawamura Award (1999, 2002)
- Triple Crown (1999)
- Central League Rookie of the Year (1999)
- 2× Golden Glove (1999, 2003)
- 2× Best Nine Award (1999, 2002)
- 2× NPB wins leader (1999, 2002)
- 2× NPB ERA leader (1999, 2004)
- 2× NPB strikeout leader (1999, 2003)
Uehara took a few years to find his groove in the U.S., but cemented his place in Boston sports lore for his lights-out performance in the 2013 MLB playoffs. He earned the ALCS MVP award in helping the Red Sox to the World Series championship. We ranked that glorious 2013 season as one of the best ever MLB seasons by a Japanese pitcher.
Uehara earned his first and only MLB All-Star Game selection in 2014 and returned to Japan in 2018 to end his career with the Giants. He made one final NPB All-Star Game appearance in 2018 and then retired at the beginning of the 2019 season, in front of his adoring Giants fans. He not only goes down as one of the all-time beloved greats in Japan, but also as the sixth-best Japanese import in MLB history.
A unique piece of original art, featuring NPB immortal Shigeo Nagashima of the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants. The photo depicts him after winning the 2000 Japan Series as manager of the Giants, the players throwing him in the air in a traditional doh-age celebration.
While Nagashima’s three titles as manager of the Giants are impressive, his accolades as the Giants’ third baseman from 1958 to 1974 make him one of the greatest baseball players ever. Just look at his resume:
- 11× Japan Series Champion
- 16x All-Star
- 1958 Central League Rookie of the Year
- 5× Central League MVP (1961, 1963, 1966, 1968, 1971)
- 4× Japan Series MVP (1963, 1965, 1969, 1970)
- Japanese Baseball Hall Fame (inducted 1988)
Despite batting behind Home Run King Sadaharu Oh, it was Nagashima who was the Giants’ fan-favorite. Racking up championships while producing consistently outstanding numbers at the plate and manning the hot corner with flare, many consider him the greatest player in the history of NPB.